Palo Alto eyes changes to recycling program

City plans to close Recycling Center, expand Household Hazardous Waste station

After years of dwindling usage and shrinking space, Palo Alto's recycling center will shutter for good in February -- the latest development in the city's ever-evolving waste-management operation.

The recycling center, a fixture at the city's landfill in the Baylands for nearly four decades, will shut down in February so that the city can cap the landfill, which permanently closed in July. On Tuesday (Nov. 1), the City Council Finance Committee will discuss the future of local recycling and ways to educate local residents about alternatives to the recycling center.

Most residents won't need too much education. According to Brad Eggleston, the city's solid-waste manager, the center accounted for only 6 percent of the city's total recyclables in fiscal year 2011, down from 13 percent in 2008. The vast majority of the city's recyclable goods are collected at the curb in blue containers. Items that don't fit into the blue bins can be placed at the curb in biodegradable containers, provided these containers' weight does not exceed 60 pounds.

The city's trash hauler, GreenWaste, also offers a free annual pick-up service for items too large for the bins.

Among the questions the council will try to answer is what to do with the "household hazardous waste" materials that the recycling center currently accepts, including motor oil, batteries and antifreeze. The city currently allows residents to bring in these items to the center on the first Saturday of each month. Residents can also arrange to bring in their hazardous waste at mid-month by appointment.

While the center's closure will prevent residents from delivering their recyclable goods to the facility, it could make it more convenient for them to dispose of their hazardous waste. Once the center closes, the city plans to expand storage space at the Household Hazardous Waste station near the center, allowing the station to remain open longer.

"Upon completion of the improvements staff anticipates that the HHW station will eventually be open to the public on a non-appointment basis, twice per week for two to four hours," Eggleston wrote in a report.

Residents will also retain the option of delivering their hazardous waste to the Sunnyvale Materials Recovery and Transfer (SMaRT) Station in Sunnyvale.

The recycling center has also been shrinking in recent years to accommodate refuse burial. According to Eggleston, it has gone from 1.6 acres in size during its peak to its current level of 0.4 acres.

The council's Finance Committee had considered earlier in the year a staff proposal to relocate the recycling center. But given the dropping usage and the available alternatives, the committee decided in July that closing the facility altogether makes more sense.

The committee will resume its discussion of the recycling center's closure at its Tuesday meeting, which begins at 5 p.m. in the Council Conference Room at City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave. The full council is scheduled to consider the topic in December.

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Like this comment
Posted by Be part of Bay Area - like others
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 31, 2011 at 10:59 pm

Just do what other neighboring cities are doing.

Slam dunk. No need to waste cities resources and no need to be different.

Like this comment
Posted by Bob Wenzlau
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 1, 2011 at 9:41 am

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

The closure of the recycling center has been forced by the same city dictate that forced the closure of the composting center. The opponents of Measure E that have lead the charge to halt our local composting have carried forward the same closure of our recycling center. Enough is enough! How much undoing of our environmental infrastructure does a mandate for a park on a dump/landfill have to cause. Their cause is selfish as generations enjoyed our recycling center as a resource like our composting center.

Then these same opponents beat the community up when they complain about the finances to make a new compost center, and a new recycling center. The irony is neither the composting center nor the recycling center were broken, and really required the fixing up. Our campaign for Measure E was triggered by these closures.

The closure of even a modest recycling center is a sad day for Palo Alto. For many, it is our recycling and composting efforts that form our sense of community identity and pride.

Let this closure inspire your vote for YES ON MEASURE E.

Like this comment
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 1, 2011 at 9:51 am

We recently tried to take household hazardous waste to the facility in Sunnyvale. Palo Alto makes a point of telling people they can do that. But when the facility in Sunnyvale found out we were from Palo Alto we were turned away. It seems that every city that wants to make use of that facility has to pony-up some money, and since Palo Alto has maintained their own facility they apparently never felt the need to pony-up.

Saying we have the ability to take that waste to Sunnyvale is a lie, currently. You can't if it says Palo Alto on your ID. You could get a friend from another city to go with you to the dump, but that is fraud.

Like this comment
Posted by rhody
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 1, 2011 at 11:09 am

So how will we recycle used video tapes? As far as I know the only way now is to take them to the recycling center near the dump. Do we really want those in the garbage? i.e. somebody's dump?

Like this comment
Posted by willmissit
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 1, 2011 at 11:16 am

"JustMe" should document his/her experience and get that info to the City Council and the (city staff) folks who run the garbage program. It should be cleared up asap!
I'm sorry to see the recycle center close. I *do* understand the economics and am sympathetic to it. However, my concern with closing the local recycling center is that people will be less likely to recycle. That is, when a battery goes dead or a small florescent bulb dies, I'm concerned that people will more likely toss it into the garbage rather than save it somewhere and then plan a trip to the Sunnyvale center. Convenience *does* play a part in how good people are about recycling. When folks could "swing by" the recycle center on the way to the golf course, duck pond, baylands, etc. I think they were more likely to save and recycle. I'm concerned that there will not be much "swinging by" Sunnyvale.

Like this comment
Posted by Brad Eggleston
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 1, 2011 at 11:20 am

Regarding Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) items accepted at the SMaRT Station in Sunnyvale, there is a distinction that needs to be made between the monthly Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) events at the SMaRT Station (for Sunnyvale residents only), and the SMaRT Station’s daily dropoff program for a limited number of HHW items (for Sunnyvale, Mountain View, and Palo Alto residents). The monthly events are not open to Palo Alto residents. However, Palo Alto residents may bring antifreeze, cooking oil, motor oil, automotive and household batteries, fluorescent bulbs and tubes, televisions, monitors, small electronics, and sharps to the SMaRT Station daily from 8am to 5pm. A list of these items with a map of the SMaRT Station and some limits on the volume and number of items that can be dropped off is available at Web Link.
It is due in part to the potential confusion in understanding the different programs at the SMaRT Station that the City recommends that Palo Alto residents use the Palo Alto HHW program, which accepts all of the items listed above.

Like this comment
Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 1, 2011 at 12:21 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

I had seen and participated in the review of layout plans for moving the recycling center to the front lawn of the sewage treatment plant. There was even a spot for the Goodwill truck. I am sorry to read that the Finance Committee felt it was not worth the cost. I fear that the loss of a local place to bring odd recyclables and certain hazardous materials (batteries, oils, mercury-filled fluorescent lights, etc.) will lead to more of the materials going to the landfill, be counter to Palo Alto's zero waste goals, and cause miss-handling of hazardous materials.

Ditto to Bob's comment to vote Yes on E, so that compost, at least, can be kept in Palo Alto.

Like this comment
Posted by WilliamR
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 1, 2011 at 12:59 pm

I'd like to see the City (or GreenWaste) bring some dumpsters to a location, perhsps a school parking lot, a couple of times a year (Saturdays), for people to drop off their large or non-standard recyclables. Then those could be trucked to Sunnyvale more efficiently than people making a lot of individual trips.

Like this comment
Posted by rhody
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 1, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Indeed convenience plays a big part in what I recycle. If the recycle center closes, I will be throwing my used video tapes into the garbage instead of looking around for where else I could recycle them.

Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 1, 2011 at 1:54 pm

Having been to the Smart station, I can say that it is FAR from convenient. Its tough to find and a good 20-25 minute drive from most of Palo Alto. As much as I like to recycle, if it is not something I am allowed to put in my blue bin and our local (truly local) center closes, I will probably put things in the trash can.

Aside from that - I had no trouble bringing a large load of regular trash to the Smart Station as a Palo Alto resident. They did make it clear that I could not bring hazardous waste there. And they were pretty unfriendly, unlike the Palo Alto sanitation staff.

Like this comment
Posted by jb
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 1, 2011 at 6:23 pm

I am disappointed that the preservation of scenery is seen as a valid reason to get rid of convenient recycling. Returning land to wildlife, restoring wetlands for flood control and water purification are good restoration goals. And there is a lot of park in the Baylands already. Why make another few acres of park? I think it is snooty to be offended by the recycling center and composting.

Ironically, I think a great many of the park users are people from beyond Palo Alto exercising near the bay. Is this a "guilt park"? Outsiders have to sign up to use parks in town and they can't go into Foothills Park. (I have also met with hostility when trying to recycle in other communities.)

Like this comment
Posted by Nostalgic
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 1, 2011 at 8:53 pm

I miss the recycling center of years ago, I will not miss the one there now. A week ago I went to try to drop something off, and I was told that the only thing that residents were allowed to leave at the recycling center is "single stream recycling." So why bother driving to the end of Embarcadero when the only things that are accepted can be put in the blue recycling bin at home?

The recycling center made sense when you presorted your recycling into separate dumpsters at the center. It was really great when one could recycle styrofoam.

Now I look forward to the new park that will replace it -- soon, I hope, if the Palo Alto voters vote wisely.

Like this comment
Posted by BornHere
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 1, 2011 at 11:17 pm

We need the recycling center

Like this comment
Posted by Gimp
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 2, 2011 at 1:42 am

I'm disabled and can't schlep stuff out to the baylands and certainly not to Sunnyvale. I've got a box filling up with household waste (eg empty Raid cans, dead batteries). It's ridiculous to expect everyone to drive to Sunnyvale with this junk. I'm going to start tossing it in the trash.

Like this comment
Posted by jardins
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 2, 2011 at 11:47 am

Dead batteries can go into a plastic bag placed on top of one's blue recycling bin curbside. Thereafter, a special drawstring bag is left by the recycling crew for one's future use.

Old videotapes could be offered to anyone who wants them, on Palo Alto Freecycle ('s amazing what is offered (and accepted) on that site!

I have found that styrofoam is accepted quite readily by pack-and-mail businesses, such as GreenMail (El Camino, about opposite from the Glass Slipper Hotel and Foot Solutions).

Nil desperandum!!

Like this comment
Posted by Enough!
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 2, 2011 at 12:25 pm

Hell with it. If there's no place to recycle or dump, such as Sunnyvale, then it's going in the garbage. The landfill closed 3 years before the projected date because the City filled it up with refuse from it's many projects.

Like this comment
Posted by Enough!
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 2, 2011 at 12:29 pm

And, Palo Alto has ONE park they keep for the use of it's residents. We have many parks in this City that are used by people from everywhere. I also see the condition of the same parks when the people go home. Keep one place beautiful for residents while the rest are being trashed by others.

Like this comment
Posted by Joel
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 2, 2011 at 1:39 pm

Joel is a registered user.

Stanford University has an excellent recycling center and its not on or near the bay. It's just before the Fire Station. Open to all. Let's get all industries away from the bay. Thinking seven generations ahead has not been a value of our forefathers. We can recover that value now.
Vote No on Measure E.

Like this comment
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 2, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

The demise of the PA Recycling Center has largely been driven by the expansion and success of curbside recycling. The various plans for a new location were rejected because they didn't make economic and environmental sense.

As a previous commenter noted, Stanford's operation is an option. I don't know the cause of the failure of Palo Alto's many attempts to have a joint center with our neighbors that would attract enough volume to make sense.

In this discussion one can see the penny-wise-pound-foolishness that also dominate the Yes-on-E arguments: One has to get past the mantras and do actual analysis. You have to look not just at the savings, but the costs. Recycling is good (I was involved when it started in Michigan in the 1970s), but not if the carbon footprint of processing the recyclables is larger (for example, recycling packing peanuts is almost always a net negative).

Like this comment
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 2, 2011 at 6:33 pm

Moran is right. Why do we need a dropoff recycling center when we have curbside pickup? How much greenhouse gas is needlessly put into the air by private vehicles driving to the recycling center?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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