November 28, 2015

Help stop SF’s dirty landfill plan!

Photo courtesy Colin Delaney on Flickr Creative Commons.

Photo courtesy Colin Delaney on Flickr Creative Commons.

On Tuesday, September 29th, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors will consider a proposal to send the City’s garbage to a new landfill owned by Recology, the company that already has exclusive rights to waste collection. This is a big problem, because using a Recology landfill creates a profit motive to dump more trash and conflicts with San Francisco’s recycling goals.

Right now San Francsico’s trash is trucked to a landfill in eastern Alameda County. The proposed new landfill is located further away in Solano County, which would mean longer truck trips (400,000 more truck-miles per year!) and an associated increase in air pollution and carbon emissions.

The plan also would skirt an open space mitigation fee that has protected thousands of acres of parkland and important wildlife habitat in the East Bay.

Recology and some City Hall officials are trying to push the new landfill deal through without requiring a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that analyses potential alternatives that might have better environmental outcomes.


We all want San Francisco to be a model for the sustainable communities of the future. Where our trash ends up is a big part of that goal. Here’s what you can do:

  1. Send a message to the Board of Supervisors demanding that they require an EIR on the dirty landfill deal! Tell them that the new landfill would mean more carbon pollution, less money for open space protection, and a disincentive to achieving the city’s zero waste goals!
  2. Show up Tuesday, September 29th, and tell the Board of Supervisors that we need an EIR on the dirty landfill plan!

WHAT: SF Board of Supervisors meeting
WHEN: Item at 3 pm; show up at 2:45 pm to submit your speaker card
WHERE: Legislative Chamber, Room 250, City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, San Francisco, CA 94102-4689

Read more about this issue in “New destination for S.F.’s trash would mean more carbon emissions, less open space for Alameda County.”

Help get Oakland composting! Volunteers needed Sat., Sept. 26

Photo courtesy Brooke Anderson.

Photo courtesy Brooke Anderson.

The Northern California Recycling Association (NCRA) is going door-to-door in Oakland to promote recycling and composting among Oakland multi-family residents and we need your help! Are you available to help us get the word out on Saturday, September 26th?

In partnership with Oakland Recycles, recycling workers from the ILWU Union Local 6, and the Alameda Sustainable Recycling campaign (including the Sierra Club’s SF Bay Chapter), NCRA will visit apartment-dwellers in Oakland to let them know more about changes to their waste-collection services that became effective July 1st — including universal organics collection!

The goal of this outreach is to assist the City of Oakland in reaching Zero Waste by promoting the benefits of composting and recycling. We also hope to develop community pride, increase awareness about the new curbside compost-collection program, and clarify questions about what is accepted in the recycling and compost bins.

Volunteers should be prepared to walk up and down stairs and will likely walk over a mile over the course of the day. Hats, sunscreen and water are recommended. Light morning refreshments and lunch will be provided as well as all other outreach materials.

  • Date: Saturday, September 26th
  • Time: 9 to 10 am volunteer training, 10 am to 1 pm door-to-door outreach, 1 to 2 pm lunch and debrief
  • Location: Arroyo Viejo Recreation Center, 7701 Krause Ave., Oakland

Let us know if you can join! RSVP to 510-320-3140 or

Parking is available in the nearby CDC parking lot. Transportation from Coliseum BART can be arranged if requested in advance.

Celebrating wins that give a fair shake to recycling workers and multi-unit residents

Photo courtesy ILWU.

Photo courtesy ILWU.

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.

Photo courtesy ILWU.

Photo courtesy ILWU.

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

— AR Boone

New destination for S.F.’s trash would mean more carbon emissions, less open space for Alameda County

Scenes from Tesla Park in southeast Alameda County, which is under threat from a proposed expansion of the adjacent Carnegie SVRA off-road-vehicle park. Mitigation fees for dumping waste at the Altamont Landfill ­could be used to protect Tesla Park as open space. Such environmental mitigations won’t happen if San Francisco’s waste is landfilled in Solano County instead of at Altamont. See article below for more information. Photo courtesy Dick Schneider.

Scenes from Tesla Park in southeast Alameda County, which is under threat from a proposed expansion of the adjacent Carnegie SVRA off-road-vehicle park. Mitigation fees for dumping waste at the Altamont Landfill ­could be used to protect Tesla Park as open space. Such environmental mitigations won’t happen if San Francisco’s waste is landfilled in Solano County instead of at Altamont. See article below for more information. Photo courtesy Dick Schneider.

Should San Francisco redirect its garbage from an Alameda County landfill to Solano County? The change would mean more carbon pollution, less money for open space protection, and a disincentive to achieving the city’s zero waste goals — so the Sierra Club is doing everything it can to stop the plan.

Since 1987, San Francisco has been disposing of its municipal solid waste at Waste Management’s Altamont Landfill in eastern Alameda County. In 2010, as San Francisco’s contract with Waste Management began nearing expiration, the city invited bids for its future waste disposal. Recology Corporation, the company that now collects San Francisco’s garbage, won the bidding with a proposal to dump the waste in a landfill it owns in Yuba County, over 100 miles away in the Sierra Nevada foothills. The waste would have been transferred to railcars and hauled by train to the site. The Sierra Club opposed that contract for a variety of reasons, and ultimately the deal fell through owing to permitting obstacles and local opposition.

Recology’s back-up plan is to take San Francisco’s waste to another landfill it owns on Hay Road in Solano County. The waste would be trucked on I-80 through Richmond to the site. The Sierra Club’s SF Bay and Redwood Chapters oppose this plan for a number of reasons and urge San Francisco to continue sending its waste to the Altamont Landfill in Alameda County. The most important reason for our opposition is that waste disposed of in Alameda County is subject to a mitigation fee for the harm that landfilling imposes on the environment. No such fee exists in Solano County.

The mitigation fee levied at Altamont goes primarily to a fund for open space protection. The money is used to acquire land for the permanent protection of native biological diversity and natural habitat in eastern Alameda County, the area impacted by the landfill. All jurisdictions that landfill in Alameda County, not just San Francisco, are subject to the fee.

Since the fee began being collected in 2000, the open space fund has distributed over $8 million and helped permanently protect over 4,000 acres of native biological habitat. That land is habitat for the California red-legged frog, California tiger salamander, burrowing owl, and many other species that live in Alameda County and are at risk of extinction. The Sierra Club has a vote on the committee that determines where the funds are spent.

One potential use of Altamont mitigation funds is to buy back Tesla Park land from the State Parks and Recreation Department. Tesla is a biologically rich and scenically beautiful area where the Department’s Off-Highway Vehicle Division wants to expand the adjacent Carnegie State Vehicle Recreation Area. Off-road vehicle use would destroy the natural values of this magnificent area. The Altamont committee has already indicated its willingness to use its open space funds for this purpose.

If San Francisco’s waste were landfilled in Solano County, however, this environmental mitigation would not occur. Internalizing some of the environmental and social costs of an activity is an important way to help reduce its impact. Despite the added fee imposed in Alameda County, Waste Management’s latest bid to keep San Francisco’s waste going to Altamont is competitive with Recology’s bid for disposal in Solano County.

A second reason the Club opposes the Solano County landfill is that the round-trip distance from San Francisco to Hay Road is 40 miles farther than Waste Management’s Altamont landfill. Given the number of trucks involved, this works out to 2,000 more truck-miles per day or 400,000 more truck-miles per year compared to Altamont disposal. Those additional truck-miles in turn mean additional greenhouse gas and other air pollutant emissions, despite Recology’s claims that they are not significant.

Moreover, the truck route to Solano County goes through the City of Richmond. Richmond is a city with a large disadvantaged population of primarily minority residents where the Club has been active on environmental justice issues for many years. We oppose exposing that disadvantaged community to any more unnecessary air pollutants.

Finally, if Recology were to send waste to its own landfill and receive disposal fees for the waste dumped there, it would have an economic incentive to maintain a garbage flow to the landfill and less incentive to help San Francisco reach its goal of zero waste by 2020.

The issue of where to send San Francisco’s waste will be going to the Board of Supervisors this summer. The Club will be advocating renegotiating a new contract with Waste Management for continued disposal at the Altamont Landfill. Adequate capacity exists at Altamont well into the future. Should the Board approve Recology’s Hay Road site, then the Club will support a challenge by Solano County residents who contend that a full environmental impact report should be prepared rather than the mitigated negative declaration that has been released so far.


If you live in San Francisco, contact your supervisor and urge them not to approve Recology’s Hay Road landfill in Solano County and to direct city staff to reopen negotiations with Waste Management for continued disposal of San Francisco’s waste at the Altamont Landfill in Alameda County. Non-San Francisco residents can do the same. Find your Supervisor and their contact information here.

— Dick Schneider

Berkeley moves to stop balloons from polluting the Bay

Photo by Brenda Anderson on Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by Brenda Anderson on Flickr Creative Commons

While balloons may seem like harmless fun, when they are released into the air they can cause serious problems for our environment. Recognizing the threats balloons pose to the Bay Area’s wildlife and marine habitats, the City of Berkeley has studied and debated balloon regulation for years—and 2015 could be the year that the city finally reins in the environmental impacts of helium-filled balloon release.

After being released into the air, balloons often end up in waterways, where they can be consumed by fish and other marine wildlife, causing harm and death. For bayside communities like Berkeley, this possibility is of particular concern. Balloons made of aluminized Mylar also have conductive properties and have been known to cause power shortages upon contact with power lines, posing a hazard for utility workers. Birds, meanwhile, can become entangled in the strings attached to balloons.

The State of California has partially addressed the issue by passing a law requiring that helium-filled foil balloons carry a warning label and be anchored with a weight when sold. California law also prohibits the release of helium-filled balloons made of electrically-conductive material like Mylar at specified events. However, no state law regulates latex balloons.

In 2008, recognizing the threat that releasing helium-filled balloons poses to the environment, the Berkeley City Council referred the issue to the City’s Community Environmental Advisory Commission (CEAC). The Council requested that the Commission explore a public education campaign and restrictions on sales of helium-filled balloons. In November 2009, the CEAC returned to the City Council with recommendations to: 1) declare the release of balloons to be an environmental and physical hazard, 2) prohibit the release of balloons at special events permitted by the City, and 3) initiate a public education campaign regarding the hazards of balloon release.

An industry group of latex and Mylar balloon producers called The Balloon Council vigorously opposed the City’s modest proposal and engaged in an intense lobbying campaign to thwart it. Unfortunately, their efforts were successful in creating enough confusion and concern that the Council voted to table the issue for future consideration. The Balloon Council has also successfully blocked attempts at the state level to legislatively address release of helium-filled latex balloons.

This past October, Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin re-introduced the issue of regulating the release of helium-filled balloons in Berkeley. In December, the City Council once again referred the issue of regulating balloon releases to the CEAC. The CEAC is expected to present the Council with proposals on how to address the environmental impact of balloon releases early this year.

The Sierra Club—whose Northern Alameda County Group voted to support the concept of balloon regulation—will be following this issue as it works its way through the commission process and will continue to advocate for measures to mitigate the harmful effects of balloon litter in our Bay. For more information or to get involved, email Northern Alameda County Group Executive Committee member Luis Amezcua at

— Luis Amezcua

Oakland’s Zero Waste win threatened by misleading corporate campaign

Waste FlyerOn August 13, Oakland’s City Council made a courageous decision to adopt a recycling and composting contract that incorporates green and forward-looking elements including:

  • source separation of trash, recycling, and compostable materials for all Oaklanders;
  • use of a local EBMUD facility for anaerobic digestion of Oakland’s food waste and conversion to clean energy;
  • collaboration with Civicorps, a local organization that provides training and job placement to underprivileged youth;
  • augmented bulky waste pick up to prevent illegal dumping;
  • decent wages for recycling workers, many of whom work and live in Oakland; and
  • building a multimillion dollar state-of-the-art recycling facility on Oakland’s Army Base.

California Waste Solutions (CWS), which was awarded the contract, was the only company that agreed to implement these and other benefits for Oakland residents at consumer rates lower than their main competitor, Waste Management. Currently, Oakland City Councilmembers and City Staff are working closely with CWS to ensure that the transition to the new contract happens smoothly and timely.

Unfortunately, Waste Management—which lost the bid due to their proposed higher rates and unwillingness to incorporate many of the contract’s green elements—is now gathering petitions to force a costly special election for Oakland taxpayers in an attempt to overrule the City Council decision. Don’t be fooled by these petitions, which are using inaccurate and false information. If you have questions, you can call or email your councilmembers, Mayor and/or City Administrator to receive accurate information. Don’t fall for an expensive scam.

Together, we can build an Oakland that keeps local money local, treats all Oaklanders fairly, and builds its economy on green, collaborative, and sustainable values.

Last chance to speak up for composting in Oakland

Zero Waste Oakland is implementing a new “Zero Waste” system that will go into effect next summer. As the City Council prepares to approve its franchise agreements for Oakland’s waste-hauling and recycling services, now is the time to make sure that the contract includes pick-up of a separate bin for compost and food waste at multi-family homes in Oakland. This bin should be provided automatically to all households and apartments at no extra cost.

Recycling and composting programs work best if everyone participates. That’s why all households and businesses in neighboring Alameda and San Francisco have access to comprehensive recycling and composting services.

Oakland must also protect recycling workers—the men and women who perform the dirty and often dangerous job of processing our waste—by ensuring that the new franchise agreements provide wages comparable to what recycling workers in Fremont, San Jose, and San Francisco currently earn (or are scheduled to earn).


Recycling and composting programs work best if everyone participates—the same is true for our political process! How you can help:

  • Come to the special Oakland City Council meeting at 5:30 pm on Wednesday, July 30, at 1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, City Council Chambers, 3rd Floor, and speak in support of the mandatory third bin for all Oaklanders.
  • Sign the online petition in support of the mandatory green organics bin for multifamily residential buildings.

Oakland Council reaffirms composting policy

On March 18 the Oakland City Council adopted a resolution to implement new Waste Collection Franchise Policies.

This resolution requires bidders on the city’s waste-hauling contract and city staff to present viable options for mandatory source-separated composting services to all Oakland residents, including those in multi-family units. It also calls for family-supporting wages and bene­fits for recycling workers. These are ends that the Sierra Club Northern Alameda County Group has been actively working towards.


We  still do not know when the final waste-hauling contract will come back to the Council for a vote. At that time it will be important to make sure that full implementation of citywide compost service is included for all residences. So far the city has merely asked for a cost estimate; food-scrap collection service at no extra charge will only become a reality if city residents insist on it.

To make sure that you receive our alert when it is time to contact the Council again, go to sign up for “Updates and alerts from the SF Bay Chapter”.

Oakland in ferment over compost policy

220x220_zero-wasteSoon, likely before the next Yodeler appears, the Oakland City Council will decide on a 10 – 20-year waste-hauling contract, in particular on whether to provide a third bin for compost to all multi-unit buildings. This decision will be an important element in the city’s efforts to limit climate change.

According to StopWaste’s 2008 Waste Characterization Study, around 43 – 53% of the waste from residential units in Alameda County is compostable organic matter. If not managed properly, compostables release a substantial amount of methane into the atmosphere. Methane is a powerful climate-disrupting gas, with 20 times the short-term impact of CO2. Not only is composting one of the most effective ways to control methane release, but it also helps to save on scarce landfill space.

We fear that Oakland’s leadership is wavering on providing a third bin for compost to multifamily units–which represent a growing proportion, now 40%, of Oakland’s residents.

Without a third bin people throw compostables in the trash. This mix of food scraps and rubbish will go to a Multi-Reuse Facility (not yet built) to be separated via screens and then by recycling workers. At best this method produces low-grade contaminated compost with limited uses. Another key contract concern is to improve the wages for Oakland’s recycling workers, who are doing our dirty work (see the article on page 7 about the big raise for Fremont recycling workers). Today most Oakland recyclers do not even make living wages (starting wage is $12.75/hour), and they work under hazardous conditions to sort the trash we throw out. It’s time to be conscious of what we throw away and whom it affects.

Composting in multi-unit buildings can be challenging and will take time and effort to implement. San Francisco set an example by launching a successful citywide third-bin composting program with an intensive educational campaign, empowering residents to be responsible for their waste and environmental footprint. Now, only five years later, San Francisco has participation by hundreds of thousands of residents.

Climate change is the defining issue of our time and permeates every layer of our day-to-day lives. A huge part of moving towards Zero Waste is helping people to become conscious of their waste. In-home composting does this better than having low-paid recycling workers sort our trash for us. Everyone deserves the equal opportunity to take responsibility for their environmental footprint, and this education is essential to our transition towards sustainable city living.

What You Can Do

E-mail your Oakland councilmember (you can find your Council district at, with copies to city administrator Deanna Santana at, Mayor Jean Quan at, and Public Works Agency Director Brooke Levin at

Or write to each of these at:

Oakland City Hall
1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza
Oakland, CA 94612.

Urge them to make sure that the new Zero Waste contract includes a mandatory third-bin for compostables for all Oakland residents, including multiunit buildings, and fair wages for recycling workers.

When the contract comes to the City Council for approval, we will need you to take action again. To be notified then, sign up for the Sierra Club Bay Chapter’s e-mail updates and alerts at

Fremont votes big raises for recycling workers

Fremont recycling worker Maria Navarro has been supporting her children on low wages for the past five years. She and others brought their children to ask the City Council for better pay. Photo courtesy International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

Fremont recycling worker Maria Navarro has been supporting her children on low wages for the past five years. She and others brought their children to ask the City Council for better pay. Photo courtesy International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

On Dec. 10 the Fremont City Council approved a fee increase to provide for a wage increase for 65 workers at the Fremont transfer station. Over six years, sorters’ wages will increase from $13.90 per hour to $20.94 per hour. Other workers will receive similar wage increases.

While workers’ wages will rise significantly, rates for Fremont rate payers will increase by only about $.32 per month. This shows that when a city, its service provider, and workers and their union all work together, it is possible to solve the problem of poverty wages in the recycling industry.

As participants in the Alameda Sustainable Recycling Campaign, the Sierra Club Bay Chapter hopes that Fremont will serve as a model for other communities in Alameda County, particularly Oakland. On Dec. 17, 24 recycling workers attended the Public Works Committee meeting in Oakland to show support for including a wage-and-benefits standard in the Oakland franchise agreement.

Recycling workers employed by BLT in Fremont are members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 6. They’re working with the Sierra Club and other groups to improve pay and services in the recycling industry--part of an effort to achieve Zero Waste.

Recycling workers employed by BLT in Fremont are members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 6. They’re working with the Sierra Club and other groups to improve pay and services in the recycling industry–part of an effort to achieve Zero Waste.

Workers Jose Romero and Yadira Carrasco thanked Councilmembers Gallo and Kalb for their public support of their campaign and urged all councilmembers to work to include a standard in the contract.

Ruth C. Abbe, Sierra Club Bay Chapter Zero Waste Committee