Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Recycling is King in San Francisco

Recycling by Force

San Francisco is making recycling the law

mandatory-recycling-mayorYesterday, the Board of Supervisors for the City of San Francisco passed an ordinance which will be the most sweeping recycling law in the country. The mandatory recycling ordinance, proposed by Mayor Gavin Newsom states that residents of the city must recycle and separate their compostable waste into three different trash bins: green for compost, black for trash, and blue for recycling. Failure to abide by this ordinance could also result in fines reaching as much as $500.

Section 1803 of San Francisco’s “Mandatory Recycling and Composting Ordinance” states:

All persons in San Francisco must source separate their refuse into recyclables, compostables and trash, and place each type of refuse in a separate container designated for disposal of that type of refuse. No person may mix recyclables, compostables or trash, or deposit refuse of one type in a collection container designated for another type of refuse, except as otherwise provided in this Chapter.

Mayor Gavin Newsom’s goal is for San Francisco to have a 75 percent recycling rate in 2010, with zero waste by 2020. San Francisco already isolates 72 percent of the 2.1 million tons of waste that its resident’s produce each year away from landfills and into recycling programs, but it’s the mandatory composting that has the city’s officials most exited.

When the nation is looking at complex solutions for climate-change reduction, we should not overlook the importance of simple things like increasing the recycling rate and composting.” says Jared Blumenfeld, who is the director of the city’s Department of Environment.

mandatory-recycling-nimitzThe city already composts 400 tons of food scraps a day, 90 percent of which goes towards enriching the soil of vineyards in Napa and Sonoma Counties. If the rest of the country were to catch up with San Francisco’s goals, we could divert more than 190 million tons annually. That’s the equivalent of 1,900 Nimitz-class aircraft carriers! Set end to end, they would stretch over 374 miles – that would almost stretch from Boston to Washington DC.

People will embrace composting just like they embraced recycling,” says Nathan Ballard, the spokesperson for Mayor Newsom, who himself began composting kitchen scraps six months ago. “Here in San Francisco people are crazy about recycling. Composting is the next frontier.

Although mandatory composting and recycling being enforced seems to be a good idea that will boost the city’s recycling rate tremendously, there are still others who are opposed to this ordinance.

Comments from the “blogging” city residents range from “outrage” to “their civil rights being contested”. One blogger wrote: “Welcome to the world of Big Brother, San Francisco! You don’t get to decide whether or not to recycle, and if you don’t the trash police will get you…” So what are the pros and cons to having you, as a city citizen, to be mandated by law to recycle?

The United States, who is said to be one of the most progressive countries in the world, is surprisingly decades behind other countries around the world. Some reports indicate The Netherlands recycling rate is 65% with Austria’s is about 60%. Greece is around 10% and Portugal about 5% while the U.S. (33%) being comparable with less progressive countries like Spain (35%) and Ireland (31%).

Punishment for Failing to Separate Recyclables and Refuse


With the newly-enacted mandatory recycling and composting law, San Franciscans everywhere need to think twice before throwing away a soda bottle in the trash, and not a recycling bin. Failing to place the bottle in its appropriate blue recycling bin could result in a $100 fine. The new law punishes those careless or perhaps forgetful San Franciscans who disobey the recycling law by collecting fines ranging from $80-$100 for the first offense.

What happens if one careless San Franciscan becomes a repeat offender? Well, for the second offense, he is fined between $150-$200. If they continue to throw away left-overs in the trash and the appropriate green composting bin, they will be fined $250-$500 for each additional offense.

The mandatory recycling and composting law, not only punishes those San Franciscans who throw everything away in one trash can, the SF government will also fine businesses $500 for failing to provide appropriate receptacles for recyclables, compost, and trash. Businesses that provide food or beverages must have appropriate bins that are easily accessible and placed next together outside at all exits for their customers to separate their trash. These businesses also must place ashtrays or other receptacles for employees or customers who smoke. All receptacles must be emptied when they are full with their designated materials and at the end of the day where the separated items need to be cleanly placed in a storage area or collection site. All San Francisco residents and businesses are responsible for separating and maintaining trash and having collection services pick up their separated trash.

There are exceptions to the law for property owners and managers, however. In section 1910, these exceptions are defined. Any property owner or manager who does not have enough space to house the blue, green, and black receptacles must fill out a form detailing the lack of storage space. If an on-site examiner concludes that the property lacks enough storage space, sharing of receptacles with other property owners is an option. Another option is for the property owner to drop-off compost and recyclables at a San Francisco transfer station that has been collected from a public trash bin.

Cities with mandatory recycling laws – Pittsburgh, San Diego, Seattle – are not as stringent as San Francisco, but others such as Honolulu mandate certain materials be recycled, but don’t have overarching laws. In 1994 South Korea initiated a policy similar to what San Francisco has just enacted. They experienced a 175 percent increase in recycling in 10 years of implementation. They make citizens pay for bags that contain non-recyclable material, that way there is a direct economic incentive for people to use recyclable materials.

Is this a wasted effort?

Maybe it’s time we all get on board with Mayor Newsom? Mandatory composting and/or recycling has been around before San Francisco’s new law, but many states and countries are still awaiting a green epiphany. According to Forbes, Ohio and West Virginia, are rated as some of the worst polluters.

Ask around and most environmentally-aware individuals will tell you that composting is nothing but a wonderful way to divert waste from the landfills. If composting is so beneficial, why not make it mandatory nationwide? Yes, it will divert tons of waste. Yes, it can be used for fertilizer. Yes, you are helping Mother Nature make things grow. However, there are concerns and apprehensions circulating around this issue.

Composting may not be an easy solution for every residential or commercial location. Additional investments may be required depending on the size and scale of the site. If you have a large property which produces loads of waste, it can involve extra time and money on your behalf to maintain.

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