Piedmont Neighborhood News

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A Garbage War Is Brewing: Recycling vs. Aesthetics/Convenience

Posted by drewbendon on November 16, 2007

UPDATE:  I have received a few questions/comments by e-mail.  One e-mailer was concerned that curbside service would lead to increased rodent/racoon problems.  I perused the materials on the city’s website and could not get an answer.  The e-mailer has asked for information from Kate Black.  I’ll update when she gets a response.  The second e-mailer wants me to clarify my letter because there are additional issues regarding the types of materials that can be collected.  Adding yogurt containers and waxed milk/juice containers, for example, to the types of things that can be recycled would have a big impact (think of all those school lunches).  I definitely support maximizing they types of things that can be recycled – but that is not the primary focus of this letter.  The focus of this letter is simple:  If we have “backyard” service the size of the recycling container is limited to 32 gal.  If we have curbside service as the default service we can have larger recycling containers.  If we want to increase the types of thing we can recycle, limiting ourselves to the smaller container makes no sense.

Here is some relevant information from the report to the City Council:

“RSS and WMI have proposed that backyard collection will not offer containers over  32 gallons.  The size limit is to prevent worker injury.  However, the size limitation essentially  defeats the intent of offering the larger recycling carts which would allow and encourage the  recycling of larger volumes.  It may also require residents to have multiple recycling carts for  customers with a lot of recycling, and may reduce the amount of material recycled and diverted.”

The report also points out that:  “during the  evaluation phase of the process proposers were asked what a rate might be if curbside collection  was the default service. RSS replied that the rate would be approximately $27/month for a 32  gallon cart, which is $21/month less than the lowest proposed backyard collection service rate.”

It also seems from the report, though it is not entirely clear, that if the default service is curbside, then people will still be able to pay for backyard service.

So the issue remains: recycling (larger containers) vs aesthetics (and convenience only if you don’t want to pay).  I have made some modifications to my letter.  Please let me know if you’d like to sign on.


Decisions on the new garbage contract are boiling down to a battle between recycling and aesthetics/convenience. In the contract proposals being considered we will need to give up “backyard” garbage service if we want to maximize our recycling potential. The City and City Council have begun to receive a form letter from a group that would like to preserve “backyard” service on the basis of aesthetics and convenience.

I have proposed the following form letter in opposition to that letter. Please let me know if I can add your name to my letter, below.

Kate Black and members of the City Council:

Right now our community is faced with the choice of maintaining “backyard” garbage service or improving our recycling capability by increasing the volume of materials recycled.  Obviously, we would all like to have both, but if that is not possible, we, the undersigned, believe that it is Piedmont ’s obligation to choose the environment over convenience and aesthetics.

Given the effects of Global Warming and the existence of the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch – a heap of debris floating in the Pacific that’s twice the size of Texas ,” we all need to take steps to reduce our impact on the planet. Piedmont is a pleasant town whose suburban/sylvan beauty will not be marred by the once weekly appearance of garbage and recycling receptacles on our streets; certainly not enough that we should ignore our obligation to our children to preserve the environment.

Given the concern of some members of the community regarding convenience and aesthetics, we hope the City would re-engage the service providers to see if we can have both backyard service and more recycling at a reasonable rate.  If that is not possible, we would prefer a contract that would allow Piedmonters to “opt in” for a fee to backyard garbage service and to deliver that “opt-in backyard service” free of charge to the elderly and/or disabled.  If that is not possible, we would like the City to investigate possible means of mitigating the inconvenience of curbside service on the elderly and/or disabled.

Please do not place the values of aesthetics and convenience over the health of the planet and our children’s future. Please choose curbside service over backyard service, if necessary, to maximize our recycling capability.

Thank you,

Drew Bendon


3 Responses to “A Garbage War Is Brewing: Recycling vs. Aesthetics/Convenience”

  1. drewbendon said

    Bob Houser points out that my letter is confusing in that I am saying that if we want to keep backyard garbage, we cannot get increased recycling options. Bob says that he wants to see more things recycled, and bigger bins and that I make it sound like we cannot change our current recycling options if we want to keep backyard garbage. That’s what I want to clarify.

    Garrett Keating responds:

    I see your point. There are two issues I guess. One is capacity (32 gallons or more) and the other is what materials go in the bin. Is that what you mean by “more things recycled”? The list of recyclable materials we can change over the course of the 10-year contract as we renegotiate clauses so we can expand the list of materials. We cannot expand our capacity if we stipulate that recyclables get picked up in the backyard – the contractor will not carry bins over 32 gallons. So I guess that should be clarified in Drew’s letter. But excess capacity will help us recycle more. Syrofoam is good example – large volume material that we can just toss into the bigger bin. What other materials do you think we can be recycling that we are not?

  2. drewbendon said

    Dan Harvitt writes:
    You can add my name to the letter that gives priority to recycling over curbside service. We’re moving from Oakland where we don’t have curbside and most all of our neighbors get their cans off the street pretty quickly. In any case, even if there still is curbside for garbage, there won’t be for recycling — so people will still need to move those cans/be subjected to the seeing them at the curb. It’s kind of odd to me that currently everyone gets curbside but the green can is an option. A year or so ago, Oakland started collecting food waste in addition to garden waste in our green cans, and it’s made a significant difference in reducing general trash waste. Of course, the best thing to do with your food waste is to compost it and use it in your garden.
    I do think that having curbside as a paid option might be really nice for those who find it difficult to do for themselves.
    Thank you,
    Dan Harvitt
    Sylvan Way

  3. trood said

    I read through all the letters to the City staff regarding the garbage contract – which overwhelmingly supported back yard collection. Many were from elderly residents and none expressed concern about additional cost, just about having to lug their garbage down the hill – a totally legitimate concern.

    I support opt-in (only) backyard service and curbside carts (as Oakland has used for years without noticeable raccoon problems I’m aware of) but I don’t support free backyard pickup for the elderly. The people in favor of maintaining backyard pickup, based on the letters, are predominantly elderly. So a subsidized “free” backyard service for all elderly, regardless of need, would necessarily result in higher fees for the non-subsidized ratepayers, even those using the curbside carts. Which doesn’t really seem sensible – to me.

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