With just a little bit of embarrassment about what is hiding in his garage, Palo Alto City Councilman Marc Berman Thursday dropped off some partially used and expired hazardous household items at 2501 Embarcadero Way -- officially opening the city's improved household hazardous-waste station.
In addition to serving as a drop-off point, the facility now offers a new service: Residents can pick up reusable household products such as paints, household cleaners, polishes and motor oil that other people have dropped off.
A new security fence and storage bins have been installed. A canopy at the drive-in station will keep rain off unloaded materials during inclement weather, city officials said.
So what is in the garage of a typical city councilman?
Berman brought batteries, a can of paint, fluorescent light bulbs, propane canisters and expired prescription medicines. Everything can be recycled except for the medicines, which will be disposed as hazardous waste.
Palo Alto's program, launched in 1983, was the second in the state to collect household hazardous waste, Berman said. Collection began at the Regional Quality Control Plant in the early 1990, and a new storage facility opened in 2008, he said. The city collects three times the state average and 71 percent is recycled or reused, he said.
Chuck Muir, manager of environmental control programs, said city officials are excited about a new state-funded reprocessed-paint program, PaintCare, which will blend used paint into a product that will be sold in stores, Muir said.
Officials hope new waste-station hours will also encourage less illegal dumping, Muir said. The facility is open weekly instead of monthly -- every Saturday from 9 to 11 a.m. -- and on the first Friday of each month from 3 to 5 p.m. Two metal bins for disposing medications and needles are accessible Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The program is also open to small businesses and nonprofit organizations that generate less than 220 pounds of hazardous waste per month. The so-called Conditionally Exempt Small Quantity Generator program charges lower fees and saves small businesses from cumbersome paperwork, he said.
Palo Alto-based Diffraction Optics, a small company that provides industrial optical systems used in space, medical and semi-conductor industries, uses the program to dispose of metal-shaving "cakes" made while polishing metal.
"I don't want to hurt the environment. It's a nice opportunity for a small business like us," Diffraction employee Ingmar Diller said.
Diffraction Optics general manager Wade Smith joined Berman at the reuse cabinets, perusing items that others have dropped off. Smith chose motor oil and antifreeze; Berman picked up a bottle of Lysol cleaning spray and Pledge furniture polish. He pointed out two brand-new cans of Pledge still wrapped in plastic packaging that have been kept out of the landfill because of the program.
Most people aren't familiar with the tucked-away water-treatment plant, said Karin North, source-control manager for watershed protection. City officials hope to garner more interest in the facility and educate the public about its environmental benefits. To that end, the city is creating a landscaped meeting area for tours of the plant, which includes a whimsical "walk of fame" of sewer manhole covers, she said.
A new landscaping project will screen the facility from the Baylands, including a habitat corridor using native plants between the Emily Renzel Marsh and San Francisco Bay. Hikers will also have a new walking-path system near the plant, she said.