California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) 

Innovations Case Studies

Summary: Community Cleanups

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Through community cleanups, local governments could reuse and recycle most of the bulky goods in their communities. Community cleanup programs are organized to collect materials that are not easily placed in garbage or recycling containers.

Programs that focus solely on reuse and recycling of materials generally are able to divert 90 percent or more of their materials from landfill. Programs combined with trash cleanups are able to divert 50 to 60 percent of their materials from landfills if well-designed and operated.

Typically, cleanup programs address the following bulky goods, depending on the materials routinely collected by local recycling programs:

  • White goods (e.g., refrigerators, stoves)
  • Brown goods (e.g., computers, TVs, telephones)
  • Wood (e.g., chairs, tables)
  • Used building materials (e.g., lumber, bricks, doors, windows)
  • Upholstered furniture; mattresses and frames
  • Carpets and padding
  • Hardware and housewares
  • Toys & sporting goods
  • Garden equipment and supplies
  • Auto parts
  • Paper (e.g., large boxes, magazines and books)
  • Textiles

Most communities provide some type of cleanup service as part of their regular garbage and recycling collection system. Usually these include curbside collection services or one-to-four-times-per-year special events (either collected curbside and/or dropped off to a central location). Increasingly, communities are seeking to reduce, reuse, and recycle as much of the material collected by these programs as possible.

Curbside Collection Programs

There are generally two types of curbside collection services:

  • On-call service
  • Special events

On Call Service

Communities may collect bulky goods on an on-call basis. Some communities provide this service free for the first two or three items and charge a fee for additional items or additional collections. In the past, thrift stores and charities such as Goodwill Industries and Salvation Army also provided such service. However, in many communities, these organizations cannot afford to collect bulky goods. Some communities are now contracting with these charities (either directly or via their waste hauler) to help pay for this service.

Special Event Cleanups

Communities collect one to four times each year, often as part of a spring and/or fall cleanup. Sometimes these events coincide with other recycling campaigns and community events.

Unfortunately, curbside collection events have the potential of mixing materials together so they cannot be reused or recycled. Special efforts could be made to target different materials on different days to address this concern (e.g., one day for electronics pickups, another day for furniture).

Charities and reuse businesses have also been asked to help address this concern. In Fremont, California, the local waste hauler supplies route maps for bulky goods collection to a nonprofit organization (CURA). CURA staff members drive ahead of the waste hauler’s truck and collect anything of value that can be reused or recycled.

Urban Ore has partnered with the City of Berkeley for years to provide curbside pickup of bulky goods. Emeryville uses East Bay Depot to collect all reusables during their Bulky Waste Cleanup Days. Grant funding (e.g., Alameda County Waste Management Authority.) generally pays for East Bay Depot services.

Drop-Off Facilities

Charities and Thrift Stores

Many communities have a wide variety of thrift stores, charities and salvage businesses. These businesses usually accept materials from the public whenever they are open. This is an invaluable service that keeps materials out of the landfills and helps communities meet their goals mandated by the California Integrated Waste Management Act of 1989 (AB 939, Sher, Chapter 1095, Statutes of 1989). Communities are increasingly seeking out these businesses to promote and partner with them in reuse programs.

Solid Waste Facilities

Transfer Stations, material recovery facilities (MRFs), and landfills provide opportunities for bulky goods to be recovered instead of landfilled. The public is particularly supportive of these programs if they can avoid paying tipping fees when they donate bulky goods for reuse or recycling.

A good example of this is the Last Chance Mercantile in Marina, California. This facility processes materials for resale, and it has indoor display space for books, clothing, sporting goods, household items, and furniture. Outdoor display areas contain building materials, plumbing fixtures (e.g., tubs and sinks), and patio furniture. Materials are available at a deep discount, giving them a last chance before the landfill.

Other Drop-Off Sites/Reuse Centers

The City of West Sacramento, California, conducts a drop-off program that has obtained remarkable results. In three of the last four years of their Beautification Week program, they diverted more than 60 percent of the materials collected for reuse or recycling. The program recycles yard waste, concrete, tires, mattresses, metals, and cardboard. An appliance repair company takes any usable appliances; the rest are recycled. Any other usable items are set out for swapping.

Dorm Moveouts

The University of California, San Diego, increases collection schedules for recycling and trash during move-outs and ensure that all collection containers are empty going into the move-out week. The university recycling program encourages students to recycle and donate items instead of throwing them away. Recycling tonnages increase about 30 percent during move-outs.

In Gainesville, Florida, the city conducted a community cleanup and giveaway program at the end of the school year. They collected furniture and household items from students and the community at-large using charities and city and county staff. All 21 tons of materials collected were reused or recycled.

Another year, Gainesville provided the furniture and household items to the Salvation Army for them to distribute. Also, the Alachua County Rural Collection Centers for Solid Waste and Recycling allow residents to drop off bulky items for either disposal or for a “swap shop.” These items are set under a canopy and the public can take whatever they like.

Community Exchanges

Seattle, Washington, has established a community exchange. Residents are encouraged to bring their reusable or repairable items to give away at a neighborhood site organized by the city. Residents may take items they want for free. The city staffs the exchange with volunteers as much as possible. Acceptable items include reusable furniture, working household appliances and electronics, reusable construction materials, reusable housewares, clothing, and clean, dry textiles.

Habitat ReStores

More than 50 Habitat for Humanity affiliates across the United States and Canada have established ReStores, including five in Southern California. A ReStore is a thrift shop that recycles quality surplus, new, and used building materials at a fraction of retail prices. Many people wish to donate used items to Habitat, but they can’t accept anything for Habitat Homes that isn’t brand new. ReStores were established to sell these items to help fund the construction of the Habitat houses in the community. ReStores also give others in the area a way to improve their homes at a reduced cost.

Reuse and Recycling Campaigns

Second Chance Week.

The Local Government Commission organized the first Second Chance Week in October 1997, initially under contract to the CalRecycle. Second Chance Week has stimulated a wealth of information and ideas about how to promote reuse of materials, including bulky goods, in communities throughout California. Many of the different activities that have been organized are highlighted on the Second Chance Web site. Some of those activities have targeted many of the same bulky goods as community cleanups. Second Chance Week would be a particularly good time to organize a fall cleanup activity to promote reuse and recycling of bulky goods.

Communities could also use many of these ideas throughout the year and could incorporate one or more of those ideas into their regular municipal services and/or franchise agreements.

Earth Day

Earth Day is an annual event on April 22. The goal of Earth Day is to promote a healthy environment and a peaceful, just, sustainable world by organizing events, activities, and campaigns. Since its inception in 1970, reuse and recycling events have been key ways for the public to demonstrate their support for environmental protection. This is an annual opportunity to promote reuse and recycling of bulky wastes using one of the activities described here.

America Recycles Day

America Recycles Day falls on November 15 of each year. America Recycles Day is designed to encourage people to buy more recycled products at home and in the workplace to keep recycling working. Their slogan is “For our children's future, we must buy recycled today.”

Although the focus of America Recycles Day is on buying recycled products, many communities also use this event as a time to promote reuse, recycling and composting in general.

Cleanup Campaigns

In addition to community organized cleanup campaigns, many volunteer groups conduct cleanups of neighborhoods, vacant lots, rivers, lakes, and beaches. These events produce similar bulky goods to those collected in community cleanups.

Volunteer groups appreciate the support of their community in organizing these events, and they really appreciate being able to reuse or recycle the materials they collect. Some communities include requirements in their franchise agreements that waste haulers must provide, collect, and dispose of a certain number of trash and recycling containers for such events. Other communities do this more informally, with the city or volunteer group requesting such assistance from their hauler.

Keep California Beautiful

Keep California Beautiful is an affiliate of Keep America Beautiful, based in San Diego. In California, there are four KAB affiliates:

  • I Love a Clean San Diego
  • San Jose Beautiful
  • Keep Riverside Clean & Beautiful
  • Seaside Neighborhood Improvement Commission

Keep America Beautiful has an excellent Web site and publications. KAB offers extensive information organizing cleanups, the psychology of cleanups, sample news releases, and other implementation materials. Communities seeking to improve their cleanup programs could obtain a significant amount of information from Keep America Beautiful and their California affiliates.

Information and Assistance

Grants Programs

Communities can partner with other organizations on community cleanups by setting up small grant programs. Grant programs range from $100 to $5,000 for individuals and group projects. San Jose Beautiful provides matching grant support to nonprofit organizations, neighborhood associations, schools, and other community organizations that wish to help foster community pride in San Jose through beautification or landscaping. Grants generally range from $100 to $2000.

The Alameda County Waste Management Authority has set up a grants program for recycling collection and processing, new technologies, market development for recycled content products, and increased public awareness. Grant sizes range from mini-grants (under $5,000) to very large grants of $300,000 and more. The general philosophy is to fund innovative efforts, develop partnerships, and invest in infrastructure to support recycling in the long term.

Communities that have established grant programs include San Jose, Alameda County, the City and County of San Francisco, the County of San Diego (in the early 1990s) and the County of Santa Cruz.

Guides to Reuse

Many communities now distribute guides to businesses in the reused/ resale/repair category as well as donation opportunities in their region. Some communities incorporate these into recycling directories or buy recycled guides.

Local Government Challenges and Opportunities

A good effort to increase reuse and recycling of bulky goods would include:

  • Promoting existing reuse, thrift, repair, and salvage businesses, with guides, listings, advertisements, and referrals.
  • Separating reuse and recycling activities from trash cleanup activities.
  • Organizing communitywide garage sales, rummage sales, or donations events as part of Second Chance Week, Earth Day and/or America Recycles Day.
  • Developing or participating in local materials exchange listings.
  • Adding reuse and recycling operations to the local transfer station, MRF, or landfill through a requirement in service contracts, solid waste facility permits, or local land use permit conditions. Facilities could establish their own operations or make available land (preferably at low or no cost) for entrepreneurial reuse businesses to be located on, or next to, such facilities.


Pursuant to contract (IWM-C8028) with the University of California at Santa Cruz for a series of 24 studies and summaries, Gary Liss & Associates prepared this summary.

The statements and conclusions in this summary are those of the contractor and not necessarily those of the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle), its employees, or the State of California. In addition, the data in this report was provided by local sources but not independently verified. The State and its contractors make no warranty, express or implied, and assume no liability for the information contained in this text. Any mention of commercial products, companies or processes shall not be construed as an endorsement of such products or processes.

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Last updated: October 05, 2015
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