Recycling and Anxiety in Berkeley 

A proposal to increase recycling fees in Berkeley has brought the feud between poachers and residents to a boil.

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In contrast to Berkeley, most cities contract waste and recycling collection to private companies. Bourque said only ten other cities statewide have city-run waste collection programs. Waste Management and California Waste Solutions share recycling pickup in Oakland, where residents also receive an un-itemized bill. That's because when recycling was first integrated into waste removal services, the city feared people would try to opt out of recycling if they thought they were paying for it, according to Becky Dowdakin, Oakland's solid waste and recycling program supervisor. "We're realizing we need to stop hiding the cost," she said, "and tell people: 'This is what it costs, this is what you have to pay. I'm sorry you thought it was free. It isn't.'"

Still, for residents who have watched hundreds, thousands, perhaps millions of recyclables slip through the city's fingers, the fee system is a matter of semantics. And residents simply don't want to pay more. A 32-gallon waste can in Berkeley now costs a single residence $27.10 a month — more than in Alameda, Richmond, Albany, Fremont, Hayward, Livermore, Dublin, and San Leandro, but less than in Oakland and Piedmont.

Still, the poaching problem will never be solved as long as people are raiding blue bins to pay their bills, Bartlett noted. "We need a national employment initiative; we need it really bad," he said. "This poaching thing is a naked degeneration of our quality of life."

For his part, Mario said he won't stop making the rounds until he can afford to live off his wages again: "You don't make that much money [from poaching], but you can still get something to eat."

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