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.

Page 7 of 7

That is also the thinking behind Yerdle, a mobile app developed in San Francisco and used heavily in the East Bay. Yerdle allows thousands of users to give and get all kinds of items for free. Users receive credits for joining and earn more credits by giving items away.

"You would be shocked at the demand for things," said co-founder and CEO Andy Ruben. "Cities will benefit from this not only in the avoidance of waste ... but in helping constituents have access to more value for less money."

"It's easier to get rid of something if I know it's going to be used by someone else," said Emily Schnipper, a co-organizer of the Really Really Free Market in Redwood City, another local meetup exchange group, adding, "It's a way to provide low-income people with what they need."

There also is already an underground world of scavengers in Oakland who dive through trash — whether Dumpsters or illegal street piles — and walk away with new treasures. It's common for residents to offer unwanted but usable items for free on Craigslist — if interested parties have the means to take it from them. Local thrift shops and organizations like the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse also help to reduce waste by accepting donations and cheaply selling recycled goods.

But at the policy level, there's little discussion in Oakland, beyond support of the statewide mattress bill, about sustainability in the context of illegal dumping. "Reuse is beautiful," said Jewell, Waste Management's recycling program manager, noting that she is pleased that entities like Yerdle and Freecycle Network, another online exchange organization, are popular in the East Bay.

Parnes, Waste Management's recycling program coordinator, said she sees her neighbors in Oakland's Temescal district promoting this kind of reuse all the time. "I actually had to decide not to bring anything else into my home ... because there's a lot of good stuff out there," she said, adding that such efforts are "widely used, but I think it could improve."


But for now, Oakland is moving forward with its plan to impose steeper fines with the hope that residents and outsiders will be dissuaded from illegally discarding their stuff and that dumpers caught in the act will pay what they owe — thereby producing some revenue to offset the costs of cleanups.

And those costs are going up. The city council's 2013-to-2015 budget allocated five additional personnel to deal with illegal dumping along with $530,000 toward more equipment.

At the same time, the exhaustive daily efforts of public works, along with regular community cleanups — all separate from the contracted garbage pickups by Waste Management ­— will remain a double-edged sword. "We're our own worst enemy," explained English, senior supervisor with Public Works. He noted that as his staff cleans the streets and responds to complaints, it sends a troubling message to dumpers: If you leave a mess lying on the streets of Oakland, someone will pick it up for you.

And odds are you'll get away with it.

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