Plastic Free July Week 4 – RECYCLE

This is week four: RECYCLE in our series of weekly blog posts about Plastic Free July.

Unfortunately, the current options for recycling plastic in the United States are more limited than in the past. For this reason, the previous three options for dealing with plastic, ie, REFUSE, REDUCE, and REUSE, are better than actually putting your plastic items into a recycling bin, since only a few plastic items can be reliably recycled.

How did we get here?

For years, the United States depended on China to recycle the plastic that recycling centers collected. However, in 2018, China stopped taking our plastic, because 30% of this material was non-recyclable, was contaminated with other items that made recycling difficult, was never recycled, and ended up polluting China’s land and oceans. When China stopped taking our plastic, the United States turned to other countries, many of which also implemented bans on this imported plastic waste as it became clear that it was not possible to actually recycle the material. It is estimated that 20-70% of the plastic intended for recycling overseas is unusable and is discarded, which ends up polluting those countries’ land and water. 

Trash mountains
When China rejected U.S. recycling materials, Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countries were quick to follow suit.

When China imposed this ban on our plastic waste, as well as some types of cardboard, glass and paper, the recycling industry in the US was “upended”. In the past, recycling programs generated income from selling recyclable materials. However, as a result of the import bans from other countries for our plastic waste, the current economics for most recyclable materials require cities to pay to dispose of them. This includes El Cerrito.

El Cerrito’s Recycling Programs

El Cerrito operates a curbside recycling collection program (where recycled materials are commingled and separated by a processor outside of El Cerrito) as well as a Recycling + Environmental Resource Center (where recycled materials are separately collected by category and marketed directly to processors). Because of the new recycling policies from China, the demand for recycled materials is significantly reduced, making the economics of processing recyclables go from a net revenue generating activity to a net expense for the city. The materials collected from both of these programs are now generating little or no revenue, and recycling processors are now charging to accept materials. 

On June 18, 2019, the city council approved a contract with Napa Recycling and Waste Services (NRWS) to accept the commingled recyclable materials collected from the City’s curbside recycling program, based on their analysis that NRWS provided the best value for the materials collected, which include many plastic containers. The materials are sold by NRWS to processors in the US as well as Malaysia and Mexico. Although NRWS is able to process the recyclable materials from El Cerrito, they are charging the city to do so. 

If you do need to recycle plastic, either at the El Cerrito recycling center, or in your curbside recycling bin, here are some tips:

    • Make sure the plastic is clean and dry. Dirty recyclable items in the recycle bin will contaminate the other material, making all of the material impossible to recycle.

El Cerrito Recycling Center
In response to Covid-19, there are additional restrictions on accepted materials

  • Curbside Recycling Bin
    • Plastic Materials accepted – Empty, Clean and Dry
      • Bottles & jugs: all CRV containers; all numbers & colors; rinsed & empty, leave caps on
      • Rigid non-bottle plastics, such as: Tubs & containers (e.g. yogurt, margarine); Buckets, pails & crates; Clamshell trays & deli containers (please rinse and dry); Laundry baskets
      • Check this link to get the most up to date information
    • Plastic Materials NOT accepted
      • Styrofoam or other polystyrene (#6 EPS plastic), PVC (#3 plastic), plastic bags or plastic film / wrap / flexible packaging, plastic straws, plastic utensils, and other small (under 2″ x 2″) plastic items.
      • Check this link to get the most up to date information

Other recommendations:

  • If you can’t avoid a disposable container, consider non-plastic materials that CAN be recycled
    • Buy products in either glass or aluminum, which are high value recyclable materials, rather than plastic
  • Use / request compostable foodware items (such as single use take-out containers) 
    • If the foodware is made of a paper product, such as paper plates, paper napkins, paper cups, and paper bags, it can be put in the city’s Green Waste curbside bin even when soiled with food. (Separating food from plastic containers and cleaning them is an extra barrier to the successful recycling of these materials, whereas compostable items can be soiled with food .)
    • See this link for complete details about what can be put into the Green Waste Bin

Background & Resources:

Recycling in the U.S. Is Broken. How do We Fix It?

An excellent article from Columbia University’s Earth Institute’s blog “State of the Planet, dated March 13, 2020, which explains the history of plastic recycling in the United States. Much of the background information presented above is from this article

June 16, 2020 El Cerrito City Council Meeting

A link to the June 16, 2020 Resolution to execute an agreement with El Cerrito’s new recycling partner, Napa Recycling and Waste Services, which discusses where they send their material to be recycled

December 17, 2019 El Cerrito City Council Meeting

Agenda Item No 6.A

Proposed East Bay Sanitary Garbage & Green Waste Collection and Post-Collection Rates and Integrated Waste Management Fees — Effective January 1, 2020

“… the Chinese government has placed increasingly tight restrictions and bans on the amount and type of recycled material Chinese manufacturers can accept. These restrictions have caused dramatic and volatile changes in the market for recycled materials. As a result, single-stream curbside recyclables have been commanding little or no revenue, and in many communities a surcharge which is comparable to a disposal fee. Since FY 2016-17, the City’s Recycling Program has seen a loss of more than $240,000 in recycling revenue and new recyclables processing and transport costs projected to be approximately $324,000 in FY 2019-20 and FY 2020-21. These negative trends in the recycling markets are universally expected to worsen into future years.”

Robin Mitchell for the Environmental Justice Committee

Plastic Free July – Week 3 RE-USE

Plastic Free July – Week 3 RE-USE

This is week 3: RE-USE in our series of weekly blog posts about Plastic Free July. You’ve done a good job of refusing and reducing your plastic intake. It’s time to turn attention to the question, “What to do with the plastic that comes into our lives?”  

In recent years, customers have let their grocery stores and farmers market sellers know that we want no or less plastic with our food. More dry foods have been available in bulk bins, less produce was packaged in plastic bags, and customers were encouraged to bring their own cloth shopping bags.

One of the unfortunate consequences of the important pandemic Health Orders is that more of our food is being packaged in plastic.  

So how do we keep being “Plastic Free Warriors,” in the Time of COVID-19?  We offer a few suggestions. 


Clear plastic cups with domed lids are great for germinating seeds and getting them to the stage when the plants can be transplanted into a large pot or soil bed. These arugula seedlings started from seed in some G&B Harvest Supreme soil in June in a washed Starbucks drink cup. When the seedlings almost reach the top of the dome, they will be transplanted.

Clean clamshell containers serve as mini-greenhouses for new seedlings. Using a utility knife or sharp scissors, remove the lid of the container. Turn the lower part bottom side up and place over tiny leaves that just germinated. This creates a warm, humid environment that can support seedling growth. 

This container used to hold granola.

Yogurt containers can be converted into “tubes” for deep watering your tomatoes.

All of these containers can be used over and over.


Because we are doing more take out from local eateries, the food often comes in plastic containers. They can be washed and re-used many times to store food, like this leftover miso soup.

Plastic clamshell containers make great veggies and fruit gift packs from my garden to neighbors and close-by family and friends.


Instead of ordering goods that are packed in styrofoam, plastic bubble wrap, plastic “pillows” or peanuts, find vendors willing to use recycled materials, such as these paper packing solutions.


If you’ve ever dreamed of attending the Kentucky Derby and wearing a fascinator for which it has become famous, you can make one of your own with plastic items you can find in your kitchen!  We made ours from paper plates, plastic forks, spoons, knives, straws, and colorful plastic bags that the neighbor’s newspapers came in. Our “Plastinators” were created for our campaign to ban plastic foodware in El Cerrito.


Or how about making an art statement about plastic pollution and oceans, like this jellyfish that was used to make people more aware of the impact plastic has on our oceans.

Combined with  our REFUSE practice, we can ask a cafe or restaurant where we get take out not to put our food in plastic bags, and offer to put it in our own bag, bin, or basket. If they aren’t able to do that, we can still refuse the plastic bag and take the containers of food to our cars to pack there, just as we are doing at the grocery stores.  RE-USING plastic safely is one way to keep it out of the landfill for some time at least.  The added bonus of refusing and re-using is that less energy is used to produce reusable materials. Hopefully it also means fewer people will be exposed to toxic plastic chemicals in factories.

While these steps help us control the amount of plastic coming into our lives, plastic is ubiquitous–from toothbrushes to barrettes to shoelace tips and tool handles. Before the post WWII plastics revolution, people managed to live life without plastics. We  imagine a plastic-free world, and eagerly watch and support innovators like John Hollis of Berkeley with his FlatUpCup who is working to create that healthier new world. 

In the News–the latest on plastic:

Kroeger targets 2025 to eliminate plastic bag use 

KFC Canada switches to bamboo food containers by the end of this year, saving 55 tons of plastic trash annually.

Avery Dennison, makers of labels and other office supplies, has earned certification for BPA-free and FSC-certified thermal labels that can be composted.


Barbara Chan, for the Environmental Justice Committee


CALL TO ACTION for Racial Justice

Dear ECP Members and Friends, 

In our campaign for racial justice, we invite you to take part in any or all of  following actions:

1. Join the caravan from El Cerrito Plaza BART to City Hall on July 21st @ 6:00PM.  This is a covid safe event for cars, bicyclists and onlookers. For details: July 21st Caravan- Sign Up
2.  Please sign and share this petition if you have not already done so.  Rethink Public Safety
3.  Please attend the virtual City Council Meeting.  You can support the petition demands at the Public Comment period at the beginning of the meeting.  Be sure to send an email in advance to and in the subject heading write:  Public Comment Not on the Agenda if you want to speak directly to Council   You can also send your comments in advance to the same email and write your statements of support.  They will be placed into the public record.   For specific information click Instructions for writing or speaking to city council
4.  Please support the City Council Resolution to support Black Lives Matter and encourage Council  to direct staff (including ECPD) to establish  a community dialogue to rethink public safety, and to move toward creating policies and actions to promote racial justice.  You can write in advance or call in by using the link above.  This item number will be 7.A.   When you email, please write: Public Comment on Item 7.a on the Agenda.   Here is the Black Lives Matter Resolution
5.  Please attend the virtual meeting of the Human Relations Commission on Wednesday, July 22nd at 7:00 p,m.  Members will be discussing future actions to promote racial justice in El Cerrito.  We want to encourage an ongoing forum that first recognizes systemic racism in our community and then begins the ongoing process of addressing it through actions and policy.  (housing, development, health services, policing,education, etc. .)  Here is the link to the HRC AGENDA and Instructions so you can also write comments if you cannot be at the meeting. 
6.  Watch a 5 minute video about the local budget and ECPD.  What is “Defund the Police”

In memory of John Lewis, ” What I try to tell young people is that if you come together with a mission, and its grounded with love and a sense of community, you can make the impossible possible.”

It’s a Wonderful Day in the Neighborhood: Police Chief Paul Keith Responds to Questions at the Virtual Policing Town Hall

With a week’s notice, the city’s police chief, Paul Keith, introduced himself and staff members  Captain Robert de la Campa and Sergeant Ian Wong at the Virtual Policing Town Hall.  The question and answer session allowed members of the public to submit questions in advance or share questions verbally or via chat in the online platform. The intent of this post isn’t to document all the questions, but to highlight points of interest to the community regarding civilian oversight of the police department, the “Defund Police Movement” and police violence.  

De-Escalation Training

Some members of the audience asked how much de-escalation training officers receive. Chief Keith didn’t offer a clear or specific response to the question. In the State of California the requirements for de-escalation are 2 hours for every 2 years. Other types of training require 24 hours every 2 years.  In reviewing the ECPD 2019 Training Plan (the 2020 has yet to be posted)  there is no clearly stated de-escalation training. There is a non-mandatory but essential crisis intervention training of 8-40 hours but it would be a guess on my part to assume that this is the training he was referencing. Perhaps this is why Chief Keith stated that de-escalation tactics were woven into the overall training. 

What he could not tell us was the following: What percentage of hours does de-escalation represent in the overall training of officers? Is there interest in pursuing further de-escalation training to reinforce the methods used by the department?

Several callers reported witnessing police conduct that they observed to be aggressive and intimidating, and using tactics that would more likely escalate rather than de-escalate a police interaction. The Chief responded in all instances that he didn’t hear about it and would have to look into it. Without a Civilian Review Board we do not know how many complaints are issued by residents or non-residents nor do we know the nature of those complaints. This is one of the demands on the petition  

Use of Force

On the use of force, Keith was asked if his department would consider participating in Campaign Zero’s California Police Scorecard. This campaign collects data from police departments across the state, analyzes incidents of force and lethal force, outcomes and more, and scores departments based on the analysis. For example, the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Department scored an F with a high percentage of arrests ending with the lethal use of force.  Chief Keith remained non-committal and stated that if they asked his agency he would consider registering –  but they haven’t yet asked. 

Addressing Police Alternatives to Homelessness and Mental Illness in El Cerrito

Several callers commented on the fact that the police budget represents 30% of our city expenditures and suggested that we need services for both homeless people and those with mental illness. The Chief commented several times that the county handles those calls.  He pointed to the county 211 service, GRIP in Richmond and other resources, indicating that they have it in hand.  What he failed to mention is that Contra Costa County is under-resourced, 211 often is helpless to assist with homelessness, and navigating the County bureaucracy is virtually impossible for many. Perhaps the Chief can ask the City Manager and the City Council to cut the Sheriff’s Department budget so we in El Cerrito can have a greater share of County resources? Or can we simply cut some positions from our own police department? What would it cost to help the homeless?  One veteran police officer with benefits and pension obligation costs the city $240,000 annually.  If the city entered into a contract with two mental health professionals, it would most likely be half of that cost.  

(Update: At the time of this writing Chief Keith announced at a community meeting that the cities and County are in discussion about how the County might take a greater regional role in replacing some of the non-policing functions currently performed by police.)

The Chief doubled down on the idea of replacing police with social workers and suggested that any call requires a police officer with a gun to keep our community safe.  Apparently he has not read about some model programs, including one in Eugene, Oregon that has been around for 30 years.  According to the Cahoots program, the crisis intervention approach saves the city millions of dollars every year, reducing the need for the police to respond to non-emergency or non-life-threatening calls.  

Statistics on Racial Disparities

When asked to respond to a recent article about the high rate of racial disparities among police arresting black people in El Cerrito (13 times more likely to be arrested than whites), the Chief dismissed the statistical finding. He said  “So when we look at demographics we try to use other benchmarks, like demographics of our high school. It better reflects who comes in and out of town.” He used the intersection of Ashbury and Central as the example. He suggested that our black population during the day is significantly higher and that rather than the figure used of 5.4% black residents, he suggested that the high school demographics (19% Black) were more appropriate. When asked about the rate based on his demographic profile he said, “ Are there still disparities, yes absolutely.”  In a follow-up inquiry, Chief Keith said he hadn’t calculated what the new rate would be, but it would be lower. 

Chief Keith did tell the audience that the actual number of arrests of people were overall on a downward trend due to a change in the types of calls the ECPD is answering and the new priorities set for patrol officers  The police are now focused on traffic crime tied to safety issues such as speeding, as opposed to tickets for late registration fees. What he didn’t tell us is whether the rate between blacks and whites was also reduced.  

Identifying Crime Spots in the City

On the issue of where crime occurs in the city, it was surprising to find out that the ECPD has been without any data mapping software for almost  5 years. Keith said the contract ended sometime ago and they hadn’t yet renewed it. They are working on it.  He mentioned that the Nixel system provided information on location, however, he also said that not all calls are entered into the Nixel system. With a $12.745 million budget, how is the Chief allocating resources without a clear picture of where calls are coming from in this city?

All in all, those asking questions were definitely concerned about how policing is conducted in El Cerrito, interested in alternatives to address mental health and homeless issues, and not persuaded that it is sufficient to punt to the county and relinquish city responsibility for social services. Sometimes it’s not what is said, but what is not said that is so revealing. The virtual town hall on policing left so many specifics unanswered.  Please listen to the complete recording and assess Chief Keith’s for yourself.  Virtual Policing Town Hall  

The Next Steps: We the community ask the City Council to adopt the 8 points from our petition in addition to defunding the police and save our services.

What can you do?

  1. Read our petition and sign: Petition for police oversight and change
  2. Attend the important caravan on July 21st to remember the names: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Trevon Martin, Eric Garner and work toward the changes we need for public safety in our community and all communities.  
  3. Be part of the Drive-in City Council Meeting on July 21st at 7:00 p.m.  We will listen on our phones or radio and offer public comment via call-in.  Our presence will be felt and be heard.  
  4. Attend the virtual meeting of the Human Resource Commission on July 22nd at 7:00pm and support the action on the agenda to convene a listening session/Truth and Reconciliation session on racism in our community- to include our city officials and department heads. You can speak at public comment period.

Additional Links

Directions for viewing and calling into City Council and Agenda for the Meeting of July 21, 2020

Link to the joint Human Relations Commission and Environment Quality Commission Resolution on racial equality.

Additional Resources

Black Lives Matter Co-founder explains “defunding the police”

Since 2014, The Marshall Project has been curating some of the best criminal justice reporting from around the web. In these records you will find the most recent and the most authoritative articles on the topics, people and events that are shaping the criminal justice conversation.

The Breathe Act

Reform on the State level,State%20Sen.&text=Police%20Decertification%20Act%20of%202020.

A look at what is happening next door in Berkeley