Oakland residents drop off jumbo-sized trash
on October 3, 2012
They arrived in sedans, vans, pickups, and rented U-Haul’s with the detritus that they had accumulated over the years strapped to their car tops or stuffed into trunks. They brought to the industrial lot their dismantled home office copiers, broken bathroom toilets, rusted multicolored tricycles, large-screen TV’s that exposed a tangle of wires and nodules, and brown leather couches that showed signs of too many cat scratches.
“You’re doing a great service for the community,” Victor Becerra said to the Waste Management workers who climbed onto the back of his black Ford pickup and heaved browning and slightly shredded bedding onto the asphalt below.
At the site, workers wearing fluorescent vests milled around a semi-trailer truck and a line of metal garbage containers as they waited to unpack vehicles. “We actually cleared our garage,” said Tracy Levy, sounding triumphant, as workers mounted her white Chevy truck and shoved a glistening tower of ivory-hued washers and dryers onto the planks of a flatbed.
Levy and Becerra were among more than a hundred Oakland residents who descended into San Leandro over the weekend to participate in the free Bulky Item Drop-Off event. The event, sponsored by the Oakland Public Works Agency and Waste Management of Alameda County, took place at the Davis Street Resource and Recycling Center, a multi-use garbage site in San Leandro where every piece of trash tossed out by Oakland residents is delivered by WMAC, sorted, and then transferred to various locations to either be dismantled for reuse or dumped in a landfill. At the event, Waste Management workers accepted mattresses, tires, appliances, electronics, and upholstered furniture for free.
Oakland residents, who read about the drop-off in the Tribune or heard about it on KISS-FM or spotted the Facebook advertisement posted by city councilmember Desley Brooks, drove into the asphalt-laden lot on Saturday ready to unload their jumbo-sized trash.
Becerra, a San Leandro resident, had brought two box springs and a full-sized mattress to the site from the basement of his 95-year-old mother’s East Oakland home. The bedding had been stashed there, he said, for nearly three decades. “She’s been accumulating them over the years,” Becerra said. “People sometimes don’t want to throw things away when they get older.”
Becerra, a 62-year-old retired California Department of Food and Agriculture employee, rushed at the chance to get rid of his mother’s old things, he said, after his son told him the night before about the free drop-off for Oakland residents. His son, an Oakland resident, accompanied him with his local ID; to drop off items, drivers had to prove their Oakland residency by showing their California driver’s license or a utility bill.
Levy, a Laurel District resident, made two trips to the drop-off with her sons so they could unload the appliances, mattresses, and children toys that her family would no longer need in their new home, she said. On any other day, Levy said, “I would have to pay to dump it. I would pay Waste Management and it probably would have cost me over $100.”
Standing on his truck, Tony Demartino helped workers haul a broken television set, a dismantled bathroom toilet, and kitchen flooring, which had been lingering on the front yard of his Eastmont home for a month, he said. If he hadn’t heard about the drop-off, Demartino said, “I probably would let it all accumulate on my yard.”
At the end of the three-hour event, Waste Management officials counted 115 mattresses and box springs; 80 pieces of upholstered furniture; 41 appliances, including water heaters, dish washers and washing machines; and 215 pieces of E-Waste, including television screens, electronics, and radios. All these items were at one time bought by Oakland residents, but no longer wanted.
“I was amazed at how many mattresses came through,” said WMAC human resource manager Katie Slick, who helped count the items dropped off.
Some people were confused by what items were accepted at the drop-off. East Oakland residents Don Mackay and his friend Mike, for instance, arrived at the lot in a rented U-Haul truck that they had filled with old carpeting and un-upholstered furniture. “We’re not garbage or recycling pros,” Mackay said, “so when they said bulky items, we thought it was free garbage day.” Mackay said they would store the items that they didn’t drop off at home.
The free drop-off event has been held four times a year since 2009 as part of an ongoing effort to thwart the illegal dumping of household appliances, electronics, and furniture in Oakland, officials say. East Oakland resident Frank Foster, the operations manager of Oakland Public Works Agency, arrived at Saturday’s drop-off event with four tires and a couple of mattresses he said he had picked up en-route to the site. “It’s a variety of items that get dumped on the streets of Oakland,” said Foster, whose job description includes reducing illegal dumping in Oakland.
In 2011, the Public Works Agency received 11,000 illegal dumping complaints, Foster said, with abandoned mattresses generating the most calls. “It’s been like a phenomenon as far as mattresses being dumped throughout the city,” he said. “We’re devising some plans to actually tackle that debris.” Those plans include a redemption program, under which residents would be partially reimbursed for mattresses that they turn into the Public Works Agency. Foster said the agency is currently working on obtaining funds for that project. Meanwhile, in another effort to deter illegal dumping, State Senator Loni Hancock introduced a bill this year that would place the onus of mattress pickups on manufacturers rather than consumers.
Until those methods are implemented, Foster said, the city should increase the penalties for illegal dumping. “One of the biggest keys to deterring illegal dumping is enforcement,” Foster said. “We’re trying to partner up with other city departments and agencies to devise a plan to provide stiffer penalties for those who are caught.” The city’s penalty for illegal dumping is a $1,000 fine.
On a regular workday, Oakland residents can leave bulky items at the San Leandro transfer station for a fee that ranges from $25-$30 per cubic yard of the item discarded. For an average sized mattress, that might come out to $500.
“Some people that don’t have the money to pay for the dump to dispose of it, they would dump it on the street,” Becerra said.
Waste Management officials say that Oakland residents can get rid of their bulky stuff for free, without dumping it on a sidewalk, by calling the facility and scheduling a bulky pickup. For homeowners, the first pickup is free. Arranging the second one at no cost requires being placed in a first-come, first-served lottery system with 500 other homeowners. For apartment dwellers, the pickup system operates a little differently, and involves asking the building’s landlord to make the arrangements with Waste Management. The landlord would also pay for the pickup, Foster said. WMAC will pick up two sets of mattresses, four passenger tires, and E-waste free of charge. The first three cubic yards of other bulky items is also picked up for free, as long as they are not hazardous waste, . After that, it’s $25 per cubic yard.
Foster said that for people without cars, scheduling a pickup is the best route to go. “If I’m living in a situation where I don’t have a truck and I couldn’t bring the items here, but I have items that I do need to unload, and I want to do the right thing, I think that’s the way to do it,” he said.
The high rate of illegal dumping in Oakland is mostly due to ignorance about the bulky waste pick-up system and free drop-off events, Foster said. But there are other reasons. “Ultimately, we have people who are just behaving badly and are not doing the right thing,” Foster said.
Foster said Oakland is home to a scavenger culture that thrives on the discards that people illegally dump on the streets. Several years ago, complaints about appliances dumped on city sidewalks were so frequent that the Public Works Agency had vehicles dedicated to the removal of refrigerators, stoves, washers and dryers.
But that’s changed. “Scavenging actually has helped the city out tremendously in certain areas,“ he said. “What we’ve noticed in the last couple of years, is we don’t receive those complaints anymore…Urban scavengers are coming and picking up and recycling. And that’s allowing us to focus our effort in other areas.”
At the drop-off site in San Leandro, a mini-bulldozer lifted the mattresses dumped throughout the morning’s event, and hauled them into a semi stuffed with bedding. Some of the mattresses will be sent to thrift stores in Oregon for resale, while the unusable ones will be deconstructed into wood, metal, textile, and cotton batting. Ultimately, what was once trash will be turned into something new.
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