It hasn't taken long for word to spread that the popular, rebuilt El Cerrito Recycling Center is a repository of valuable recycled materials, such as scrap metal, batteries and cardboard.
Some people have been going to the facility not to drop off such items but to take them away for resale, city staff told the City Council Tuesday night.
The council agenda included a staff recommendation for a new city law authorizing the city to impose rules on salvaging materials meant for recycling.
The unauthorized removal of recycling items by some patrons has prompted complaints from other patrons, loss of city revenue and site management problems with people climbing into bins and intruding into staff-only areas, staff said.
On a 3-1 vote, the council approved a new law that gives recycling center staff the authority to require a simple permit for those who wants to salvage materials from the bins. Such a permit could be only for reuse, such as an art project or children's school project, and not for resale.
The new rules do not apply to the materials that are meant for public reuse, such as books and other items in the Exchange Zone. Members of the public are encouraged to take items from the Exchange Zone as long as the volume would fit into a standard file box. Also exempt from the new rules are the other resuse zones: the bicycle, packaging and planter pot areas.
The permit option is intended to stop loss of other recycled items to profiteers while also allowing beneficial reuse of materials that would otherwise have to be processed for recycling, said city Environmental Analyst Garth Schulz, who manages the Recycling Center.
"Reuse of materials we collect is welcome for legitimate purposes, and that would include art projects," said Melanie Mintz, manager of the city's Environmental Services Division.
"We just want to be able to give us a mechanism to be able to curtail some of the kind of aggressive salvaging that's been happening and/or people just taking too much and really beginning to see it as a depot for them to get things of value," she told the council. "As we've collected more, and more variety, that problem has grown and become an inintended consequence of our success."
The rebuilt Recycling Center opened in April.
The council's dissenting vote came from Janet Abelson, who said she was concerned that the permit process could be "cumbersome" and "stringent" for kids and others who want to reuse recycle materials for legitimate purposes. Councilmember Ann Cheng was absent.
Mintz said the permit is simple, could be quickly filled out on site and is intended only to give staff an optional tool to stop abuse by resellers, not to discourage the occasional citizen who wants to reuse the material.
"We would try to create a very user-friendly interface for getting this permit," Mintz said. "It really is meant to address a very, very small percentage of increasingly problematic behavior – to make it actually friendlier for people to come."
Councilman Greg Lyman noted that the ordinance approved by council, with amendments he had proposed, gives flexibility to the staff on whether to require a permit in the first place.
Mayor Bill Jones noted that the city's ability to sell the recycled materials is one of the sources of income that the Recycling Center depends on.
"I've never seen anything ... where it says the city has put up the Recycling Center so that other people can come, take material and profit from it," Jones said. "That wasn't the intent. It's never been the intent as far as I know."
The new ordinance also authorizes staff to impose other rules of use at the center. A set of draft rules submitted by staff with the ordinance were not part of the measure approved by the council but appeared to have council support. They included a 30-minute limit for parking at the center and a two-hour daily limit for visiting the center.
The second reading of the ordinance is tentatively set for next month with implementation beginning possibly in January. Schultz said a community meeting would be held before enforcement of the new rules would begin.
You can “Like" El Cerrito Patch on Facebook for another way to get local information and connect with other readers.