Gamechanging Service Fee for Recycling Approved by Berkeley’s City Council and Zero Waste Division

Date: 5 Jun 2020 | posted in: Waste to Wealth | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

A major breakthrough in the economics of recycling sailed through the Berkeley, CA, City Council on the consent calendar on June 2, 2020. A service fee, equivalent to the fee paid to Waste Management, Inc for managing landfill waste, will be provided to Urban Ore, the iconic materials recovery enterprise and long-time salvage service contractor. It will be paid to the company for every measured ton salvaged by hand from the city’s flat floor transfer station building. The salvaging service is fully insured to city specifications. The service fee is capped at $114,000 per year, but that could change.

Urban Ore will receive $47 per ton, payable monthly, when it scales out every evening. Among other aspects of the reuse enterprise’s programs, the fee could help them handle abundant cardboard at a profit. “What a game changer this could be for recycling all over!” stated Dr. Daniel Knapp.

Knapp, with his partner Mary Lou Van Deventer, pioneered the development of Urban Ore from a small space at the tip of the Berkeley landfill, then an open dump adjacent to San Francisco Bay, into a thriving multi million-dollar reuse and recycling enterprise operating everyday from a three acre, four building industrial site in West Berkeley. The enterprise recovers about 8,000 tons of materials per year from multiple sources.  Most of its sales come from reusable goods, which unlike recycling generates sales tax income for governments.  About 230 different types of reusable products are given space in their sales areas.  Residue sent to landfill is under two per cent. Urban Ore has remained open during the COVID-19 pandemic because it has been deemed an “essential business” by city and county guidance.

Knapp has a keen sense of history and credits Ken Dunn, The Resource Center in Chicago, IL, and Gretchen Brewer, recycling advisor to Mayor Harold Washington, with the first success at getting service fees for a recycling enterprise. “I don’t remember the date exactly, but their service fee was approved during Harold Washington’s all-too-brief Mayoralty before he died suddenly and unexpectedly.”

Dunn’s Resource Center got a recycling disposal service fee from the City that he reports brought in $10 million before the Daley machine wiped it out and the clever but deeply stupid blue bag system was invented by Waste Management Inc. By then the Resource Center had already pivoted to other materials and other alliances, so the Resource Center was able to continue through the bad political times that followed Mr. Washington’s demise.

These details are outlined in both Gretchen’s and Ken’s interviews in The Founders’ Hearts.*


*For a free PDF of The Founders’ Hearts, email, subject line: Founders Hearts. This is the First Edition, dedicated to May Pon, who co-founded Richmond Environmental Action in San Francisco, and includes terrific, inspiring interviews with Penny Hansen, Gretchen Brewer, Ken Dunn, Tania Levy, Brenda Platt, Nancy Gorrell, Kathy Evans, and Rick Anthony. Dozens more interviews are recorded and in the publication process for future editions, with many more to be added. Knapp, Wynne Coplea, Susan Kinsella, Mary Lou Van Deventer and Neil Seldman edit, curate, and interview for the Founders’ Hearts, which is published by the Recycling Archives Project, soon to be a program of the Earth Island Institute, San Francisco, CA.

Photo via Flickr.

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Neil Seldman

Neil Seldman, Ph.D, directs the Waste to Wealth Initiative. He specializes in helping cities and businesses recover increasing amounts of materials from the waste stream and add value to the local economy through new processing and manufacturing facilities. He is a co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.