Berkeley to accept more plastic types for recycling

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The Ecology Center, a nonprofit organization in charge of Berkeley’s residential curbside recycling program, announced on Wednesday that it has been working with the city to accept more types of plastic for residential recycling.

Prior to the change made earlier this month, only No. 1 and No. 2-type narrow-neck bottles were allowed. Jars, cups and other containers thrown away in curbside recycle bins would instead be sent to landfills. Now, however, the city accepts rigid plastic containers of mixed types, such as dairy tubs and plastic cups.

“The very thing that makes plastic attractive to packagers — lightweight, cheap, easy to customize — are the same things that make it an undesirable material for recycling,” said Martin Bourque, executive director of the Ecology Center. “Yet it is an ever-increasing part of consumer packaging, and we need to do what we can to keep it out of landfills and waterways.”

Items such as styrofoam containers, plastic bags, plastic utensils and compostable containers, however, still will not be accepted for recycling.

“The new Ecology Center plastics policy is a big improvement,” said Berkeley resident Zach Franklin. “We currently do our best to sort between recyclable and nonrecyclable plastics and do our best to buy less plastics, but with stores … putting nearly everything in plastic, it is difficult to pull off.”

The move to accept more plastic materials is part of a larger citywide project known as the Berkeley Climate Action Plan. Berkeley currently has a goal of achieving zero waste by 2020 with all discarded items recycled, composted or reused and nothing sent to landfill. In 2011, approximately 60,000 tons of waste were sent to landfills from Berkeley, according to a report by the city’s Office of Energy and Sustainable Development.

“There is still room for improvement,” said Councilmember Gordon Wozniak, who noted that while Berkeley’s residential diversion rate was about 75 percent in 2011, he believes there is still work to be done on citywide waste reduction.

Since last year, Community Conservation Centers, which operates recycling in Berkeley, has been piloting a program to recycle mixed plastics, collecting 170 tons of plastics so far, according to Sara MacKusick, executive director of CCC.

With the newly expanded program, CCC expects to increase the amount of plastic recycled by 150 to 200 tons in the first year, MacKusick said.

This change follows a push in February 2012, when the City Council recommended that the Zero Waste Commission research the possibility of broadening the city’s recycling program to accept more types of plastics.

“For a number of years, it looked like there wasn’t a viable market for all those plastics,” said Doug Halperin, chair of the Zero Waste Commission. “We wanted to make sure what is recycled is put to the best possible use.”

Contact Alison Fu at [email protected].