With the passage of Measure D in 1990 and the imposition of a six-dollar-per-ton fee on all materials landfilled on county-controlled lands, Alameda County became the poster child for progressive communities around the country for how to raise funds to invent a waste-free future. Alameda County became the first multi-jurisdictional county in the country where all communities had full-spectrum organics collections. Full-spectrum organics, or FSO, means not only yard debris but food debris and soiled paper as well. Bay Area residents tend to think everybody does this, but FSO collection is limited to about 400 of the 4,000 local public agencies around the country.
But even then all was not right in the kingdom of Alameda County. People living in multi-unit buildings in Oakland were deprived of FSO collection because the 1995 garbage agreement made building owners pay extra for the green cart service, and few had done so. Meanwhile, workers at five of the seven facilities that sorted recyclables into market-ready commodities were dramatically underpaid while union drivers made three times their wages.
So a movement began. First with the workers themselves, then joined by their organizing union, International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), then various environmental groups that saw low wages as disrespectful of the people who stand there hour after hour making sure all the goodies get in the right places; it was called the Alameda County Sustainable Recycling Campaign. The Bay Chapter’s Zero Waste Committee, with Ruth Abbe at the helm, was a leader in the effort to create a fair and sustainable model for waste collection.
By April 2015, all of the sorting facilities in the county had committed to the Alameda County Wage and Benefit Standard calling for affordable family health insurance for all recycling workers and wages that will rise to $20.94 by 2019. One worker whose wife also works as a sorter said, “It’s like having another worker in the family.”
The Oakland City Council got behind the Campaign’s message about green bins for multi-family units, and starting this summer the green carts are rolling out to the 3,500 multi-unit buildings where FSO collection had not happened before.
The Campaign is organizing a kick-off event in each Council District in Oakland between now and the end of the year to reach out to residents of multi-family buildings and explain what does and does not now go in the green cart. We will also be distributing kitchen pails and recycling caddies.
Got a child home for the summer and jobless, or time yourself to help this effort? Contact Ruth Abbe to volunteer at (415)235-1356 or email@example.com.
— AR Boone