A publication of Work On Waste USA, Inc., 82 Judson, Canton, NY 13617 315-379-9200 August 1992


“We have to decide that total recycling
is the only goal worth working for.”
Dan Knapp, President

“Urban Ore, Inc., is one of the most successful reuse organizations in the U.S.”
Sound Resource Management Group, Inc., Seattle, Washington.


“We reuse. Urban Ore’s primary purpose is to keep reusable things from being wasted. First we divert goods from landfill by accepting or buying them before they are dumped. But if still-useful things are dumped at the City of Berkeley’s transfer station, we are licensed to salvage them from the dumping floor. We sort our incoming goods, price them, display them, and sell them to customers, who either repair them or reuse them as-is. This kind of reuse facility differs from traditional salvage and secondhand stores in that it is dedicated not to selling a small, highly saleable inventory, but to handling as much volume as possible in all ranges of quality. Our reuse center is designed not to maximize profits but rather to prevent waste and minimize landfilling. Reuse conserves more energy and materials than recycling does because discarded items do not need to be chemically or mechanically broken down and then reconfigured into new products. Instead, reuse simply uses a product again in its original form. In doing so, reuse conserves the skill and social value inherent in an item, thereby conserving far greater economic value than recycling does. A desk lamp, for example, may be worth a penny as scrap steel, or ten dollars as a working lamp.

We recycle. When an item cannot be reused, as determined by our staff when it enters our site or by the fact that it fails to sell, we scrap it for recycling. We recycle metals, wood, and ceramics - glass, porcelain, brick, and concrete.

We spread the word. To encourage more effective recycling elsewhere, we exchange theoretical and practical information with other businesses, with governmental agencies, with activist and community groups, and with individuals trying to change the way their area handles discards. We respond to public inquiries, speak around the country, and distribute publications.


Salvaging in Berkeley goes back to 1923, when the City opened it municipal fill in San Francisco Bay and the contracted operators ran an informal salvage effort. Urban Ore’s founders started salvaging in 1979, when they took over the contracted operator’s small salvage and sales operation. They incorporated as Urban Ore in July 1981. The salvagers pulled reusable items from the material that small haulers and self-haulers brought in, then sold these goods right there at the landfill. They did not salvage from the packer trucks, because the packers’ hydraulic systems crush discards and make them unusable. In 1979 the tipping area was a pit, and any goods not destroyed on impact had to be hoisted back out to be recovered. In California’s wet winters, the pit collected water and became a muddy sink. Later, when the landfill operators filled the pit and created a flat tipping area, few goods were destroyed, and working conditions improved. Not everyone goes to a landfill to shop, however, so Urban Ore opened a dropoff-buyback and sales center on a commercial street in Berkeley. That site grew into our Building Materials Exchange (BMX). Then, when the City of Berkeley closed its landfill and opened a transfer station in town, we moved our landfill salvaging and sales area there. This became our Discard Management Center.


Today we continue to salvage from Berkeley’s transfer station under City license, as well as to receive dropoffs next door at our Discard Management Center. In October 1991 we moved the DMC sales area to our new General Store, a large warehouse next to our Building Materials Exchange. Together, this 2.2 -acre site is one of the nation’s largest and most diverse reuse centers. Bay Area residents and businesses can now conveniently dispose of and purchase reusable household goods, furniture, office equipment, collectibles, and building materials in one location. We also frequently pick up materials from businesses, residences, and sites where contractors are demolishing or remodeling.


Most of the material we process is delivered to our yards by homeowners, businesses, and small haulers. We do not weigh this material, so an accurate measure of our tonnage is unavailable. We do know, however, that in 1991 we salvaged more than 30 tons a month from the transfer station, and we picked up another 18 tons. All together, we estimate that we receive about 5000 tons of material a year.


Our most accurate long-term measure of effectiveness is our gross sales - rising sales indicate fewer goods going to the landfill. Gross sales have risen steadily since we opened, and in 1992 we expect to sell more than $1,000,000 worth of materials.


Urban Ore’s customers vary. We see remodel contractors, landlords, homeowners, real estate agents, property managers, building maintenance people, students, artists, collectors, discard haulers, teachers, electronic and computer enthusiasts, home repair people, gardeners, retired people, inventors, flea market vendors, and people who resell items in established secondhand and antique businesses.


Urban Ore employs sixteen people. The company encourages high levels of motivation, cooperation, self-discipline and good judgement in its employees by paying them well. In addition to hourly wages, all employees share equally, according to hours worked, in a bonus pool based on tonnage received and gross sales. All staff are eligible for a company-paid health plan for employees and all family members.


In addition to protecting the local environment through reuse and recycling, Urban Ore contributes to the local economy. We create jobs and collect sales taxes for state and local jurisdictions. We pay considerable sums mostly to local people who sell us their goods. We use two methods of payment, cash and trade credit. A supplier can redeem the trade credit at full value for our merchandise. In 1991 we paid out $150,000, most of it in cash. Our suppliers and customers are almost all local, so the vast majority of our economic impact is in the local community. Since we do not repair or refinish the materials we handle, local crafts people and tradespeople can earn income from the value they add through reconditioning. We also donate money and goods to local schools, artists, and community groups.”


The GENERAL STORE carries stock that changes quickly but usually includes furniture, rugs, housewares, books, tools, bicycle parts, art, records, antiques, and office equipment such as typewriters, desks, chairs, and filing cabinets. Manager: David Seabury. 1333 Sixth Street, Berkeley, CA 94710. Tel: 510-559-4450. 8:30-5:00, 7 days a week.

The BUILDING MATERIALS EXCHANGE handles vintage and modern doors, windows, lumber, sinks, tubs, toilets, bricks, tile, glass, pipe, and hardware. Manager: Claudio Osornio. 1333 Sixth Street, Berkeley, CA 94710. Tel: 510-559-4460. 8:30-5:00, 7 days a week.

The DISCARD MANAGEMENT CENTER is conveniently located ahead of but next to the Berkeley transfer station. This site does not sell items; it receives dropoffs of reusable goods and scrap metals. 1231 Second Street, Berkeley, CA 94710. Tel: 510-559-4451. 8:30-4:30, 7 days a week.

Our OUTSIDE TRADERS pick up materials, clean out houses, salvage from buildings slated for demolition, and liquidate estates. Call the General Store or Building Materials Exchange for more info.

INFORMATION SERVICES answers inquiries about Urban Ore and distributes our publications, which combine operating data with recycling research. Manager: David Stern, 1333 Sixth Street, Berkeley, CA 94710. Tel: 510-559-4454. 8:30-5:00, Mon-Sat.

WASTE NOT # 205. A publication of Work on Waste USA, published 48 times a year. Annual rates are: Groups & Non-Profits $50; Students & Seniors $35; Individual $40; Consultants & For-Profits $125; Canadian $US45; Overseas $65. Editors: Ellen & Paul Connett, 82 Judson Street, Canton, NY 13617. Tel: 315-379-9200. Fax: 315-379-0448.