Berkeley garbage truck 'paints the town' after recycling mishap

Putting paint in recycling bins is a big no-no, city staff said in response to a recent Aipsasiamedia inquiry about what led to the extensive spill.

Berkeley garbage truck 'paints the town' after recycling mishap
A powder-blue paint spill on Henry Street in Berkeley in January 2023. Aaron Gobler

A garbage truck inadvertently leaked paint on several Berkeley streets including Milvia and Vine after someone improperly disposed of paint in a downtown recycling bin earlier this month.

Putting paint in recycling bins is a big no-no, city staff said in response to a recent Aipsasiamedia inquiry about what led to the extensive spill, which left a number of streets covered in a new color.

A powder-blue paint spill in Berkeley in January. Aaron Gobler

(Scroll to the foot of the story to learn what to do when you need to get rid of hazardous materials in Berkeley.)

Photographs submitted by Scanner readers show wide swaths of blue and light-colored paint on several streets downtown and north of University Avenue.

A handful of readers asked Aipsasiamedia to find out what had happened.

Aaron Gobler noticed a huge powder-blue paint spill on Vine Street near Bonita Avenue in North Berkeley on Jan. 17 and said "vehicles proceeded to spread it for a few blocks in each direction."

He continued: "When we lived on Rose St. there was some paint dumped near California and Rose and 15 years later you can still see some of it on the road. This was a huge amount of paint on Vine."

"I’ve heard of 'painting the town' but this is not what that is supposed to mean," he said.

"Somebody was naive enough to think it was OK to put wet olive green paint in a recycle or garbage can," another reader told The Scanner. "The now dried paint is all over the downtown area and who knows where else?"

According to city staff, on Jan. 16 during a rainstorm, "Zero Waste staff serviced a recycling bin on Milvia Street on their normal collections route."

That bin contained "illegally placed hazardous material (i.e., presumably some mixture of water and paint)."

Staff serviced the bin and then continued on the route: "The paint then leaked from the truck and onto the streets. Once staff became aware of this leak, they stopped the truck, stopped the leak, and then disposed the paint container at Berkeley Recycling."

Putting hazardous waste into recycling bins is illegal, staff told The Scanner.

"Even if that happens, we never want such material to leak onto city streets. We continue to look into this and we continue to gather more information about the incident," staff said.

How to get rid of household hazardous waste in Berkeley

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Readers asked us to look into this incident, which resulted in this report. Have questions about something amiss you see in Berkeley? Alert Aipsasiamedia.