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The Recycling Center that has become the Heart of El Cerrito


The City of El Cerrito has constructed a Recycling Resource Center that is showcasing the true value of recycling and environmental responsibility. The “Center”, as it’s known, not only provides residents a place to recycle a wide range of conventional and hard to recycle items, it serves as the environmental heart of the city, proving that thinking about how you dispose of your waste can be lucrative to the entire community.

The LEED Platinum expansion was completed in 2013 on the same site as the city’s original facility that was set up by volunteers back in the 1970’s. The expanded, state-of-the- art facility offers a number of energy-saving and waste reducing innovations that other recycling centers don’t.

The Center accepts 28 recyclable materials including, Styrofoam, a material most recyclers don’t want. Workers run the Styrofoam through a “densification” machine that compacts a 50-cubic-yard bin of material down to about 2 cubic yards. While loose Styrofoam is a potential pollutant when dumped in landfills, compacted Styrofoam can be sold for reuse to manufactures of picture frames and crown molding at about $80 per pallet.

The center also accepts prescription drugs to keep them from polluting landfills and waterways under a program paid for by the East Bay Municipal Utilities District. Other partnerships include those with;  Goodwill, which collects clothing and other household items for reuse, the Berkeley-based Urban Ore, which takes reusable construction material and larger household items, and the Oakland-based Universal Waste Management, which recycles the electronic equipment including TVs, microwaves and computers.

The revenue generated from these partnerships funds approximately 10-13% of the ongoing operating costs for the recycling center. The rest of it is covered by an Integrated Waste Management (IWM) fee that is assessed on the garbage collection bills of El Cerrito residents and businesses.  The IWM fee of $9.77- $21.10 also covers the city’s curbside recycling collection program. The fee is set and assessed on each trash container collected by East Bay Sanitary Company and is based on trash container size. While the city is seeing many of its customers switch to smaller containers, fees are adjusted on an annual basis to ensure that the city’s recycling initiatives are sustainable.

“People have to dispose of their waste one way or another. It is important for us to encourage the most environmentally responsible and safe way of doing this, “says Maria Sanders, City of El Cerrito Environmental Analyst. “The Center emphasizes the concepts of reduce and reuse as well as recycle.”

An average of 400 customers visit the Center each day to recycle or reuse products, participate in educational classes or just to enjoy the sustainable features of the site. The Center’s sustainable elements include 10kW of solar photovoltaic panels, an 11,000 gallon rainwater cistern, native landscaping, rain gardens that filter stormwater runoff and extensive energy efficiency measures.

Photograph: ©DavidWakely, Noll and Tam Architects

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