Hazardous Waste in Berkeley
L A Wood, Berkeley Voice, July 29, 1993
Most Berkeleyans would answer yes to this question. But
it has been only within the last decade that Berkeley
has undertaken the job of identifying the environmental problems associated
with hazardous waste. Initial investigations of hazardous materials pollution
were directed toward business and industry. This process, encouraged
by mandated state and federal legislation, has led to mandatory disclosure
of hazardous materials used by Berkeley businesses. Our budding biotech
industry also has helped to fuel this ongoing legislative effort while
boosting citizen awareness.
In the last several years, the regulatory focus has shifted
to include residential use of hazardous materials. We now know that
residential house-hold chemicals make up a substantial contribution
to our hazardous waste stream. In fact, it is estimated that Berkeley
residents dispose of over 500 tons of hazardous waste each year. There
is added cause for alarm when use considers that an even greater volume
of hazardous materials is stored in our homes, awaiting disposal.
A list of hazardous household materials includes latex
and oil-based paints, used oil, batteries, solvents, paint thinners,
acids, antifreeze, auto materials, asbestos, polishes, cleaners, garden
chemicals, preservatives, and other chemicals. Most are flammable.
Hazardous household waste is quickly becoming Berkeley's
greatest environmental dilemma. Over three years ago, in response to
this growing crisis, Berkeley agreed to participate in an Alameda County
Household Hazardous Program. The primary objective of this program is
waste collection. When fully implemented, this program's collection
process will prioritize hazardous waste materials. Collection will favor
waste material reuse or recycling over its eventual placement in the
Landfill fees, not Alameda County's general fund, provide the program's funding. These revenues are to be used in the
construction of three household hazardous waste facilities. The three
sites are to operate on a rotating basis, week to week.
Currently, there are only two sites under development
and both are still closed. The proposed third facility is designed to
be in Oakland. This site would be nearest to Berkeley. As yet, no property
has been purchased. The EIR has not been initiated nor has any public
hearing taken place involving the affected Oakland neighborhoods.
Recently Alameda County Hazardous Waste Program Chief
Dick Pantages provided an update to Oakland's Environmental Affairs
Commission about the status of the third site. He explained how the
program's numerous problemshave delayed the opening of all the facilities.
It was suggested that without any additional problems the Oakland facility
might be made operational in a year.
Though the long-range benefits of the Alameda County Household
Hazardous Program are undeniable, the program poses a number of problems
for Berkeley residents. Currently, Alameda County has no active hazardous
waste collection. Our reliance on the county program and its public
education efforts pertaining to hazardous waste have left Berkeley without
any active household hazardous collection.
Even when all the collection sites are complete, Berkeley
residents will be forced to somehow transport household hazardous wastes
safely for long distances. In addition, the county's modest educational
efforts will also have to breach this distance.
The question Berkeley residents should be answering is
what can be done now to reduce the amount of household hazardous waste.
Certainly one answer is source reduction. This simply means that if
we restrict hazardous products, then waste reduction will follow. Source
reduction places limits on the purchase of potentially hazardous waste
products,encourages the use of less environmentally harmful alternatives,
and promotes the removal of the many unnecessary hazardous products
available to residents.
Discussions of the hazardous waste dilemma by Berkeley's
Community Environmental Advisory Commission parallels those of Oakland's
environmental commission. The CEAC has begun to explore several ideas
in order to create a more active hazardous household waste program in
Berkeley. These ideas have included a possible pilot program for returning
used paint containers as well as point of sale information strategies.
The fact remains that there is no local residential household
hazardous waste collection in Berkeley, with the exception of the newly
opened, used motor oil drop-off. Municipal collection is expensive and
most cities are reluctant to accept the indemnity. (As of 2009, still no pickup Berkeley )
Last year, Oakland held a residential collection day.
Nearly 2,500 Oakland residents appeared with hazardous wasteeven though
appointments had been made with less than a thousand. The event was
forced to close and many residents were turned away with their hazardous
As our city begins to seek interim measures to manage
this growing crisis, the issue of an annual Berkeley hazardous waste
collection day arises. Most resistance to a local collection event is
founded on high disposal costs. Disposal costs for the City of Oakland
have averaged just under $100 per car. In the past, Alameda County has
utilized other county's facilities, paying an average of nearly $350
for county residents. Though the costs are high, the price paid for
doing nothing is even greater.
suggested pilot program in Berkeley would involve creating a special
hazardous waste collection fund. The fund would support a yearly hazardous
waste collection day within the city limits and would provide point
of purchase education through citizen participation. This program would
link a local grocery store chain and its current 5-cents-per-bag redemption
program to a shopper-based contribution scheme.
In this scheme, the grocery store would function as the
conduit for shoppers wishing to contribute to a collection fund. Some
support has been shown for this idea by Berkeley's business community.
It has even been proposed that Alameda County could provide some funding
for Berkeley until the county-wide program is fully operational.
Finally, it is time to acknowledge that residential household
hazardous waste is piling up in Berkeley. It is also time to change
our city's hazardous waste strategies. Our short-term plan should not
be one of wait and see, especially when the Alameda County program is
proving to be so uncertain. We must do something for Berkeley now, if
only a nickel at a time. So the next time you are approached and asked the
question, is there hazardous waste in Berkeley, reply in the affirmative, knowing the real answer is source reduction.