Sustainability Blog

By Gilee Corral
Gilee and Jeff

Jeff Krump, the City of Hayward’s new Solid Waste Manager, invites me to tag along on his tour of one of Hayward’s recycling facilities. We’re greeted at the front window by a robot made of trash. It’s guarding a glass case displaying newspaper from the 1970s – recovered from a landfill where the facility is now located. The newspaper is browned but quite legible for being compacted in the earth for four decades. Some clever person has arranged the newsprint to display waste-related topics near the front of the case. The office is spotless and smells lightly of air freshener. I’m not sure what I expected – grungier perhaps, considering we are visiting a waste facility built over a landfill.

Trash from the 1970s

Our guides for the day are Vanessa Barberis, Public Sector Manager, Erika Solis, Construction & Demolition Diversion Manager, and Osvaldo Jauregui, Construction & Demolition MRF Manager. They fall into easy conversation with Jeff, their chatter peppered with intriguing acronyms and jargon: dirty merf (an unruly cousin of a Smurf?), dirty line, ballistic separators, bag openers. The “merf” word is used so often I reckon it must be important. It is, actually, MRF –for Materials Recovery Facility.
I’ve dressed as Jeff instructed – closed toed shoes, clothes I wouldn’t mind getting dusty. Jeff snaps the tag off his brand new florescent safety jacket and dons his new hardhat – I borrow some PPE (personal protection equipment, if you must know) from a row of hard hats and vests hanging in a line on the wall.

Erika leads us to a white van lined with immaculate floor mats. We pass the “Garden Center,” a corner of mulch. The Davis Street station sorts out grade A wood from its collections, sends it to TriCities in Fremont to be mulched, and the mulch gets returned to Davis Street, where it waits in neat piles for residents to purchase.

After the Garden Center is a building where green waste is dumped and loaded into transfer trucks. There’s an alley next to the facility that dips into a tunnel. The transfer trucks pull into the tunnel, and loaders dump the waste from above through a big window into the trucks below. I pop out for a quick photo of the mounds of pale green waste, scuffing the spotless floor mats with mud as I slide back in the van. It smells a bit like a barn, but more sour. Finally, this tour is starting to get messy!

Green Waste
This is where your green bin waste goes

The green waste gets sent to Blossom Valley Organics to be processed and returned to Davis Street as usable compost. Twice a year, the City of Hayward holds a Compost Giveaway where residents can pick up the good stuff for free. Onward, we pass an I Love Reuse corner, where residents can dump their cardboard, books, scrap metal, and mattresses be sorted and transferred to plants and get a second life as new products.

Next, the cardboard corner. Cardboard recovered from businesses and multifamily recycling bins get bundled up and taken directly to a port to be shipped to China! “Really, China?” I ask. We pause here for a mini discussion on macroeconomics and the effects of China’s growing middle class on the recovered cardboard market. As its middle class increases, China has begun to produce its own cardboard waste, inflating the Chinese domestic market for cardboard and shrinking the demand for foreign cardboard, such as the bundles I’m looking at in San Leandro, California. With China’s reduced demand, the cardboard has fewer places to go – our domestic paper mills have quietly disappeared, and now there’s not enough mills to accept our mounting piles of cardboard either. Thus, facilities like Davis Street have seen the demand for cardboard fall.

Cardboard Corners
Cardboard bundles, destination: China

On with the tour – we pass a pile of tires, awaiting a second chance at usefulness as road base, and stop in front of piles of what Erika calls “dirty wood.” Clean wood, or grade A, gets mulched, and dirty wood, or grade B, goes to biomass plants to be burned as fuel. Here we dip into economics once more, discussing the dwindling demand for grade B wood. As Jeff informs me, biomass plants began popping up in the 1970s, fueled by subsidies from the government, keen to create energy independence during the energy crisis. These subsidy contracts are starting to end and are not being renewed – thus fewer plants, thus less demand for the grade B wood.

Rounding the corner, the final destination of our tour and what I’ve been waiting for – the recycling facility! I’ve heard from Erika and Osvaldo of its many gadgets, bells, and whistles, and I’m ready to see it for myself.
What hits me first are two impressions – the mounds of junk and seagulls. I had this image in my head of individual piles of glass, paper, and so on, but these mounds on first glance look like haphazard piles of trash. But they are not trash, as I’ve been gently corrected a few times. It’s recycling, or green waste. They’re a bit sensitive to the “t” word, so I try not to use it. As we file out of the van, I brace myself for an olfactory onslaught. Smells like (sorry) trash, but not as strong as you would expect, considering I’m looking at roughly 3,000 tons of it.

MRF
Materials Recovery Facility, or MRF

At the MRF, we climb up a metal ladder and over a catwalk, a few stories high. The catwalk leads into a big room where some loud clanking and humming has started – the morning shift is back from their break and the foreman is cranking up the machines. Osvaldo leads us into the office, a room suspended above all the action, which he calls the “control room”. It looks like a tornado picked up an office and plopped it in the middle of a trash factory. Plush rolly chairs and computer screens, large windows where supervisors can oversee operations. Once Osvaldo shuts the door, the noise is muffled, but the vibrations from the machines hum under our feet through the metal floor. On one of the screens is a 3-D layout of the plant – Osvaldo shows us how sections of the digital plant light up in different colors depending on the status, i.e. red indicates a fault or required maintenance.

Osvaldo has been with Waste Management for over 20 years, starting out as a sorter and working his way up. He speaks proudly of his workforce – roughly 75% of whom are women, including the MRF’s foreman. We hear a bit about the workforce dynamics and trends that shaped his industry – how the waste sorting and other jobs were taken up by wives of construction workers many years ago, because waste jobs had benefits while construction work did not. As pay rates increased and benefits improved in recent years, Osvaldo has seen people – men and women – “lining up” for jobs at Waste Management.

The conversation shifts from workforce dynamics to management techniques. Plant workers do ergonomics to warm up before starting their shift. Erika tells us how she is incorporating Lean Management principles into production to increase plant efficiency. 

Sorters
Waste Management staff sorting waste

Out of the control room and into the plant. Below us, metal claws are reaching into the huge piles of recycling material and loading clawfuls of it onto the conveyor belts. Above us, sprinklers spray fine mists of water over the piles to control dust. The streams of waste on the conveyer belts flow up the lines and into the plant, awaiting a maze of clanging machines, sorters, filters, and gloved hands. We climb up and down metal stairs, along rails, peek over metal walls, Osvaldo and Erika calling out explanations over the mechanized din. People and machines are hard at work sorting, shaking, shifting, and dropping waste into buckets and streams. Osvaldo points out the optical sorter – it scans the material and the computer program tells the machine what is plastic, paper, etc. Another machine is equipped with upside down magnets; as the waste stream passes through, the magnets pick up metal strips.

Crossing back across the catwalk, we take a minute to admire the construction site across the road, where a brand new MRF will open in 2018. This MRF, Osvaldo tells us with pride, will be “state of the art” and one-of-a-kind here in America, with equipment imported from Europe. “Now it’s turning out to be a mini-Disneyland of transfer stations,” Osvaldo says. I can only imagine what sort of Disneyland that will be!

Back in the City van, Jeff asks, “What did you think?”
A million images fly through my mind, but one sticks out the most.
“So many seagulls!” I add, “And it didn’t smell as bad as I thought it would.”
He chuckles. “That wasn’t a lot of seagulls. You should see the landfill!”
From the rooftop of a solar installation [hyperlink to previous blog] to a pile of trash (ahem, recovered waste) – you never know where an AmeriCorps fellowship will take you!

By Gilee Corral, Hayward CivicSpark Fellow
Original story posted in June, 2016 at CivicSpark 

It’s 8:22 AM and the sky is cool and clear. I park my Prius across the street from the GRID Alternatives work site. I’d carefully selected my outfit the night before to maximize comfort and sun protection: jeans I’d be ok ruining, tennis shoes, light cotton long sleeved shirt, movie star-wide sunglasses. I also carefully selected my attitude. I have decided not to default to my Safe Zone approach: pick the job I know I can do best, with people I feel most familiar. Today, I am going to step boldly into solar unknown – whatever tool and job that’s offered to me, I’m going to take it, do my best, and learn.

Folks are unloading construction things from a small trailer with GRID Alternatives printed in friendly letters on the side, hitched to a pick-up truck. A woman with glasses is making conversation with one of the guys in a GRID tee shirt with the casual familiarity of someone who speaks construction.

“Who wants to get on the roof today?” Asks a guy in an orange shirt – he’s the volunteer Team Leader.
“Me!” I say quickly…step boldly, right?
“Ok, everyone on the roof, grab a safety harness.” He points us to a tub of straps and buckles, all jumbled together. I’m instantly transported to the moment I first picked up a baby wrap and feel a familiar stab of “stupid panic” – the fear of looking stupid trying to figure out what should be easy. Then I remember my attitude, that I selected this morning on purpose, and smile at the Orange Shirt man.
“How do you put one of these on?”

He starts to explain, then gets corrected by a blue shirt man. Well, maybe it’s not so easy after all. Blue Shirt, who’s a GRID staff member, walks me through the buckling and snapping, step by step.

At the top of the ladder, another blue shirt guy (Daniel) snaps a metal clamp to my back, connecting me to a “lifeline” strap. The asphalt shingle grinds under my tennis shoes. Daniel huddles the volunteers and unfolds the plans for the project, pointing out where the panels will go. Our crew is a mix of experience levels. I’m the only first-timer, but I don’t feel left out. Every step of the way, Daniel and the team leader explain what they’re doing, involving us in the measuring, calculations, and physical work. I get a power tool thrust in my hands and am told on the spot how to use it.

There are a lot of steps to remember in solar installation. I had this idea that you just slapped the rack up there and clicked in the panels…yeah, not so much. The process is an odd mix of calculation and gut feeling. Take finding rafters, for example: you can measure between rafters and estimate where the next one will be, but that’s often wrong. You drill a hole and feel if it hits something. If it’s a miss, you take this metal stick and feel around in the hole for the rafter. Daniel takes a hammer and kind of bangs around the roof tiles, listening for a solid noise that may or may not happen. Sometimes, Daniel just points, lines up the drill, and says, “It is here.” How does he know that? There’s no code for Rafter Location Clairvoyance on my skill list to check off, thank God.

By the end of the day, I feel so comfortable in the harness and hard hat, it feels weird to walk around without them. My knees are burning from kneeling on the now-hot tile, and the roof is starting to look like a solar project instead of a map of chalk lines. We’ve racked half the roof, leaving the other half for a team of Goldman Sacs volunteers to finish off tomorrow. Daniel hands me the impact driver and with a mechanized whir, I drive a bolt into a clamp and thus install my very first solar panel! I take a moment to admire it glinting in the sun, but just a moment, because another one is making its way up the roof.

Back home, scrubbing roof tar from my fingernails, I think about what it would be like to wear a hard hat all the time, to feel the drill under a confident palm and guide it through an invisible rafter with easy, graceful precision. To scan the roof of my 10th, or 100th solar installation and calculate parameters within the space without thinking.

In the mirror, a weary, sun-baked face looks back at me under a matted mess of helmet hair. Tomorrow I’ll go back to my Excel spreadsheets. But today, I was a solar installer. 

Gilee

The Hayward Utilities & Environmental Services and Maintenance Services Departments teamed to host the City’s summer Compost Giveaway Event on Saturday, August 27. Nearly 400 residents visited the Corporation Yard at 16 Barnes Court and each household received four bags of organic-certified compost.  Maintenance Services staff worked efficiently and promptly to load cars, keeping the line moving quickly and pleasing residents. 

Compost Giveaway

Several residents posted positive remarks about the event on City social media sites. The free event is offered to Hayward residents twice a year as part of the City’s contract with Waste Management.  Residents show proof of residency and receive compost created in part from food scraps and yard trimmings collected from Hayward residents and businesses.  Providing compost back to residents closes the loop in the organics recycling process as Hayward households reap the rewards of separating food scraps and yard trimmings as opposed to sending them to landfill. The event was promoted via a bill insert in garbage bills. Copies of the insert were also placed at libraries and the event was posted on Nextdoor.com, Facebook and Twitter.  The City’s inaugural Giveaway event was held in September of 2015 and about 380 residents attended.

The next Giveaway will be held Saturday, October 29, 2016, from 9am-noon at 16 Barnes Court.    

The City is taking a leadership role in training the next generation of wastewater treatment operators. A few years ago Hayward's Water Pollution Control Facility (WPCF), among many Bay Area plants, realized an acute shortage of qualified candidates to operate its technologically advanced treatment plant. To address this need, the City decided to re-instate the Operator-In-Training (OIT) program. Re-instating the OIT program has proven to be an effective way for the WPCF to develop its own qualified plant staff. Within a year’s time, all of the OITs have taken exams above the minimum required by the state.

WPCF Staff

Moreover, WPCF staff has taken an active role in preparing individuals for the water and wastewater industry. Ray Busch, WPCF Manager, teaches the Modern Wastewater Treatment Plant Operations Program at Castro Valley Career and Adult Education. On June 8, the WPCF hosted one of the program’s classes. Jason Meyer, Lead Operator of twentytwo years, shared his experiences and led the students in a tour of the facilities. Students were engaged and enjoyed hearing from a highly experienced Lead Operator who has a genuine passion for this field.

Utilities and Environmental Services Department is currently in the process of recruiting and hiring a new crop of OITs to prepare them to be the next operator lead operators, and management staff at the City’s WPCF.

WPCF Sraff

The Spring/Summer 2016 issue of Wastewater Professional, published by the California Water Environment Association has honored Jeff Carson, Operations and Maintenance Manager at the City Water Pollution Control Facility, as one of a handful of “California’s Emerging Leaders in the Water Environment”. 

Jeff Carson

Here’s the link to the magazine where the entire article can be found beginning on page 17.

Jeff started his position with the City four years ago. He came to the City from the Sewerage Agency of Southern Marin, where he was interim general manager. Jeff has a BA in biology and environmental studies from
Cal State University – East Bay. Congratulations Jeff!

Fun for one and all was had at the annual Arbor Day Celebration, held on May 26 at Eldridge Elementary School.  The event was a successful example of how our Hayward local agencies come together to celebrate and recognize the community we live in - this time focusing on trees and our local Urban Forest. 

Class planting tree

Did you know that for the last 30 consecutive years, Hayward has been awarded the “Tree City USA” award by the Arbor Day Foundation in honor of its commitment to effectively manage our urban forest? Hayward achieved this national recognition by meeting the programs four requirements: 1) having a tree department, 2) having a tree-care ordinance, 3) having an annual tree budget of at least $2 per capita, and 4) having an Arbor Day observance and proclamation. Learn more here.

Students receive prizes

Since 1985, an Arbor Day celebration has been held in Hayward, with the celebration being a partnership between the City of Hayward, Hayward Unified School District (HUSD), and the Hayward Area Recreation District (HARD).  This year’s event included presentations, mascots, information booths, a choir and tree plantings. 

The MC for the program was Mr. Enrique Pin, Eldridge Elementary School Principal.  The event was attended by Eldridge Elementary School students, along with local officials to include the Honorable Barbara Halliday, Mayor of the City of Hayward; Francisco Zermeno, City of Hayward Councilman; Sara Lamnin, City of Hayward Councilwoman; Rick Hatcher, HARD Director; Carol Pereira, Secretary - HARD Board of Directors; Lisa Brunner, HUSD President – Board of Trustees; Stan Dobbs, HUSD Superintendent/CEO and Timothy Williams, from the U.S. Forest Service.

Assembly

The community celebration included information booths from Sulphur Creek Nature Center and the City of Hayward Fire and Police departments. An Arbor Day poster contest was held for Harder Elementary School students who submitted entries.  Twelve winners were chosen and received t-shirts and passes to Kennedy Park as their prize. Their art has been prominently displayed at City Hall. Eldridge students from Mrs. Martie Canterberry’s music class performed two beautiful songs – including the Star Spangled Banner. To get the children involved and interested in stewardship of our Urban Forest, the children participated with staff to plant ten Crepe Myrtle trees and four redwood trees.

Class Planting