Fresh Purpose | Metropolis Magazine

El Cerrito, California

Founded in 1972, the recycling center in El Cerrito, California, has recently been reinvented to cope with the chemicals and electronics that we currently discard.  David Wakely

Before household recycling became popular enough to have its own bit on the comedy show Portlandia, it was a rather hippie thing to do, even in California. In the early 1970s, as Christopher Noll of the Berkeley-based architecture firm Noll & Tam says, “Everyone from Berkeley used to drive up to El Cerrito to dump their stuff—this recycling center is legendary.” Last April, his firm finished a $2.8 million net-zero replacement that will keep that facility relevant today.

The advent of curbside recycling meant that the focus of the El Cerrito Recycling and Environmental Resource Center had shifted to items that require special treatment: computers, hazardous waste, chemistry equipment, bathtubs, and more. The range of materials required a separation between, say, the people dropping off out-of-use inkjet printers and those handling used cooking oil, but the client wanted to maintain a sense of friendliness among all recyclers. Noll & Tam’s solution was to install a circle of Dumpsters. “We did some math and realized that this radial layout gave us the length on the outside of the circle and a shorter inside,” Noll says, providing more linear Dumpster feet. But more than that, the circular form was emblematic, both of the recycling process and of the site—a hollowed-out, circular quarry that now has a new use.

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