Berkeley has begun to use automated single-operator garbage trucks that have a side-arm to pick up waste bins. Photo: City of Berkeley

A recent city announcement about a new approach to waste pick-up in Berkeley has left some readers perplexed and concerned.

The city has begun using automated one-person trucks to collect waste bins using a mechanical side-arm; in the past the trucks needed a second body in the rigs to pick up the bins. The city has said the new trucks will increase efficiency, but a number of readers have questioned the logistics of the new procedures.

As outlined in the brochure below, bins should be set one foot apart — in the gutter or driveway, with wheels against the curb — three feet from parked cars. On street cleaning days, or when the previously noted placement is otherwise impossible, bins can be set in the ‘parking strip’ between the sidewalk and gutter.

Wrote one outraged reader: “Do the people who came up with the new ‘Cart Set-Out Requirements’ actually live in Berkeley??!! In what neighborhoods do households have a whole empty car length in front of their houses that can be used for parking trash cans??!! …. Cars are parked so tightly on our block that the best we can do is try to leave a couple of  ‘holes’ between cars large enough for the trash men to take the carts through to the street.”

Wrote another: “We received postcards in the mail today outlining (impossible) requirements for setting out waste carts (Berkeley Municipal Code section 12.34.020). All three carts must be set in the street against a curb or drive, 3 feet away from any vehicles and 1 foot between carts. I doubt that there is a single block within a one mile radius that can comply with this requirement.”

Readers complained that the new rules would be a better fit for suburbs with driveways and garages, and that the recent city postcards about the new rules were “a total waste of postage, printing and time — a.k.a., money — when Berkeley cannot afford it.”

One side of a flier about the new rules. [Click to view larger]

Ken Etherington, Solid Waste division manager in Berkeley’s Public Works department, said the city is working to help people who live in neighborhoods with conditions that make the new collection protocols problematic.

Some residents, for example, don’t have curbs, while others don’t have driveways.

“Those are the situations where we ask you to contact us,” he said. “We’ll look at the situation, and say, ‘Can you put ’em here or here?’ We recognize that this city has a lot of different pockets.”

The best way to reach the city is by calling 3-1-1 with questions, he added.

Etherington said green waste collection using automated trucks started in August, and garbage pick-up with the new trucks began in October; the city sent out the flier in November to ensure that neighbors know the drill.

The goal with the new trucks is to help control operating costs, he said, which have faced ongoing increases.

These operating costs can affect rates for pick-up services. Berkeley’s rate for a 32-gallon bin ($28.93) is still lower than rates in surrounding cities ($38.10 in El Cerrito, and about $36 in Albany). Said Etherington: “The city’s interest in using technology is to control costs.”

The conversation about the new trucks, which already are in use in places like Oakland, Emeryville, Albany and El Cerrito, started about two years ago, said Etherington. The city hired a consultant who looked at Berkeley’s solid waste services to find opportunities to increase efficiency. One of the recommendations was to use the automated trucks; the recommendation went to the City Council, and the council approved it.

Etherington said there will continue to be “select locations” where the driver has to get out and get the bin: “It’s not ‘one process fits all’, but it does fit the majority.”

So far the transition has been “very smooth,” he said, adding that customers have been working with his division in challenging areas, and that drivers like the equipment. He said he’s heard that some customers even go outside their houses just to watch the truck arm work.

“It’s a change and we don’t expect the change to happen overnight,” he said. “But I think it’s a good direction.”

Some residents have expressed concerns recently about automated waste collection trucks that have started operating in Berkeley. This is one side of a city flier about the new rules

If something around town has you mystified, write to Berkeleyside at (subject line: “Ask Berkeleyside”) and we’ll do our best to track down an answer.

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...