What a Waste 

Oakland has launched a crackdown on illegal dumping, but the effort doesn't address the needs of many city residents, and it's not sustainable.

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In addition, an increase in bulky pickup options would likely be associated with rate increases for trash pickup in Oakland, though rates are expected to rise regardless with the new contract. "The logistics of making it work are really challenging," Parnes added, referring to bulky pickup for apartment buildings. "It's creating a whole new program." In large buildings, there may be residents moving out every single day, Jewell noted.

But pickups for apartments are not impossible. In fact, Waste Management provides this very service for the City of Emeryville, where, according to the 2010 US Census, 71 percent of the housing units are part of structures with ten or more dwellings. Twice a year, managers of properties consisting of four or more units in Emeryville can schedule curbside pickups or provide residents with a "roll-off box," essentially a large Dumpster. Buildings with five hundred or more units can schedule four appointments a year, said Marcy Greenhut, environmental programs technician within the city's Public Works Department. This service, added in 2011, is used regularly by apartment-dwellers. "It's definitely a big help," Greenhut said.

Mike Mahoney, a public works superintendent, said this option also has helped reduce the amount of illegal dumping in Emeryville. The agency was not able to offer specifics on the cost of this service to residents — it was one of many changes in the new contract — but said it was not significant.

During a lengthy interview inside an office at the Davis Street Transfer Station, Jewell added, matter-of-factly, "Illegal dumping is super complicated and it's folded in with social justice and poverty and high-density living and transit and all kinds of other issues — and money."

Negotiations in the past have not delved into this debate, in part because illegal dumping was not such a prevalent problem. Then, the economy plummeted, she said.

On a recent Thursday morning, about 6,000 used mattresses were stacked inside a 25,000-square-foot warehouse in an industrial park in East Oakland. A group of a dozen or so workers were sorting the mattresses and their various parts, stripping steel off of box springs, and handling deliveries from as far north as Redding and as far east as Truckee. The site is called DR3, and it's the largest mattress recycling facility in the country, processing about 125,000 mattresses a year. But as big as this facility is, Oakland officials hope that a new state law will allow the company to expand even more to help solve one of the largest problems associated with illegal dumping: discarded mattresses on city streets.

"The object is to clean up the streets and get mattresses out of the landfills," Robert Jaco, facilities director of DR3, said of SB 254, which was sponsored by State Senator Loni Hancock of Berkeley and signed into law last month by Governor Jerry Brown. Jaco expects that the new law will allow his company to grow substantially in the coming years with four or five new facilities in Northern California and an annual volume closer to half a million mattresses — a number that may grow each subsequent year.

The new state law mirrors programs already in place for recycled bottles, televisions, and other electronics, and will be funded by a fee collected at the point of mattress sales. CalRecycle, the state entity that oversees recycling, will collect the tax and develop a state system to collect discarded used mattresses, dismantle them, and recycle their materials. The state will hammer out a proposal over the next year and a half, said Hancock, meaning full implementation of the law will not happen until 2015.

"If we can establish clear ways for people to have their mattresses taken away and recycled, everybody will win," Hancock said. "We live on a planet that is very fragile and in many places literally drowning in its own waste. Anything we can do to take that waste and reuse it — and create jobs by reusing it — is a great plus."

DR3 is hoping to play a major role in implementation, which is especially fitting given its location in Oakland, a hotbed for mattress dumping.

The mattress-recycling law also aims to tackle the dumping epidemic in a way that has been overlooked in the city's new crackdown on violators by encouraging more sustainable waste disposal practices. In fact, to date, there have been no serious discussions in City Hall about creating or supporting sustainable solutions to the city's illegal dumping problems, even though Oakland and the Bay Area have long been national leaders in recycling efforts and are home to organizations devoted to sustainable reuse.

"I see so much stuff thrown out [on city streets] ... that can be used and not just wasted," said Kendra Poma, founder of Swap It Oakland, a meetup group in which residents can get rid of items they no longer need and pick up other stuff for free. "I really wanted a space where people can get together and [do] hand-to-hand exchange."

As a "Dumpster diver," Poma said she has observed the rise in illegally dumped materials and is always keeping her eyes peeled for items on the street that might be of interest. "It's very much about having access to things that I couldn't afford and also not wasting." While such swaps would not deal with the construction debris, toxic materials, or very large dumps that plague Oakland, they could tap into a more sustainable approach to the overabundance of stuff — in a city in which many transplants need new belongings while others departing need to offload.

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