The Zero Waste Program: San Francisco

The Zero Waste Program is a non-profit organization designed to promote tools, practices, and city policy to reduce toxins and waste in San Francisco.

This program assists San Franciscan businesses, city government, and universities, such as the University of San Francisco and San Francisco State University, in creating sustainable solutions for our environment. Imagine a world in which nothing goes to the landfills or incinerators. We think it’s achievable, and SF Environment is doing everything we can to make it happen. Thanks to one of the country’s toughest mandatory recycling and composting laws, the total refuse that San Francisco diverts to recycling and compost is nearing 80 percent, and the number is rising every year. Bringing the city ever closer to our goal of zero waste by 2020.

Sustainable San Francisco recycling

Those following interesting recycling initiatives around North America have probably heard of San Francisco’s aggressive “zero waste by 2020” goal.  To put some teeth into that goal, there is a detailed Mandatory Recycling and Composting Ordinance  that requires city residents and businesses to separate their refuse into recyclables, compostables and trash.  Requires.  Not requests. Inside the 25 page ordinance, passed in late 2009, the Board of Supervisors noted that  “…organic or compostable waste that is buried in the aerobic conditions of landfills creates methane gas…21 times as potent as carbon….and 20% of San Francisco’s planed reductions in emissions come from diverting additional solid waste from landfills…” The ordinance goes on to note that 36% of what residents send to landfills is compostable (mostly food scraps) and that 31% is recyclable (mostly paper).  The ordinance addresses residential, commercial and government  usage.  While mandating new procedures, the ordinance was accompanied by an innovative public education program designed to show the ease and convenience of composting and other best practices.  Take a peek at this sample post called “Food scrap collection is easy: find the best method that works for you.” ( http://www.sunsetscavenger.com/residentialFoodScraps.htm )  Or the cool 30 second TV ad  that asked for your apple core!

Simple concept:  when the benefits and ease of recycling and composting are made clear — they happen!  Kudos to San Francisco for taking a lead that other cities are now following and for trail blazing on policy and on education. San Francisco has world class recycling and composting collection programs  that are available to all businesses and residents. While these programs are truly fantastic, it is always better to reduce the amount of material we send to these programs and to reuse materials wherever possible.

Sustainable San_Francisco zero waste program

Recycling is a big part of life in San Francisco and the environmental department is proud to have one of the best programs in the nation. Their recycling collection program is “commingled” or “single stream” which means that all recyclable materials, such as paper, glass, plastic, and metal are accepted in one collection container or cart. The materials are then sent to Recycle Central, located at Pier 96 on San Francisco’s Southern waterfront, where they are separated into commodities that are sold to manufacturers that turn our discards into new products.San Francisco has created the first large scale urban collection of food scraps for composting in the country. Today, hundreds of thousands of residents and over 5,000 restaurants and other businesses send over 600 tons of food scraps and other compostable material each day to Recology’s Jepson-Prairie composting facility, shown above. Food scraps, plant trimmings, soiled paper, and other compostables are turned into a nutrient-rich soil amendment, or compost, that is used to produce the organic food and wine that San Francisco is famous for serving. Compostable food and paper products still make up more than 36 percent of the material that San Francisco sends to landfill.The goal is to divert even more compostable material from landfill.

Do you want more information? Go visit COOL 2012 (http://www.cool2012.com/) , a project dedicated to documenting the benefits of municipal compost programs. Or download Stop Trashing the Climate, a report detailing the climate change impacts of recycling and composting. To help San Francisco move closer to its goal of zero waste by 2020, the Mandatory Recycling and Composting Ordinance requires everyone in San Francisco to separate their refuse into recyclables, compostables, and trash. No one may mix recyclables, compostables, or trash, or deposit refuse of one type in a collection container designated for another type. All property owners are required to maintain and pay for adequate refuse service.

For more information please visit San Francisco environmental department website: http://sfenvironment.org/zero-waste

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