San Francisco OKs Toughest Recycling Law in United States

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 9-2 Tuesday to approve Mayor Gavin Newsom’s proposal for the most comprehensive mandatory composting and recycling law in the country.

It’s an aggressive push to cut greenhouse gas emissions and have the city sending nothing to landfills or incinerators by 2020. “San Francisco has the best recycling and composting programs in the nation,” Newsom said, praising the board’s vote on a plan that some residents had decried as heavy-handed and impractical. “We can build on our success.”

The ordinance is expected to take effect this fall which means that throwing orange peels, coffee grounds and grease-stained pizza boxes in the trash will be against the law in San Francisco, and could even lead to a fine. The legislation calls for every residence and business in the city to have three separate color-coded bins for waste: blue for recycling, green for compost and black for trash.

Failing to properly sort your refuse could result in a fine after several warnings, but Newsom and other officials say fines will only be levied in the most egregious cases. Fines for almost all residential customers and many small businesses – anyone who generates less than a cubic yard of refuse a week – are initially capped at $100. Businesses that don’t have proper bins face escalating fines up to $500. There is a moratorium on fines until at least July 2011 for tenants and owners of multifamily buildings or multitenant commercial properties to get people used to composting. Buildings where recycling carts won’t fit can get a waiver.

The proposal, hailed as an effective way to cut about two-thirds of the 618,000 tons of waste the city sent to landfill in 2007, drew resistance from some apartment building owners when details emerged about a year ago. And some residents were upset over the possibility of inspectors checking their garbage.

The ordinance calls for garbage collectors to leave tags on containers when they spot incorrectly sorted material, but those collectors are only going to view what’s on top of the container and have no intention of going through them, said Robert Reed, a spokesman for San Francisco collectors Sunset Scavenger Co. and Golden Gate Disposal & Recycling Co., subsidiaries of Recology, formerly Norcal Waste Systems.

Cities from Pittsburgh to San Diego have mandatory recycling. None, however, requires all food waste to be composted. Seattle passed a law in 2003 requiring people to have a compost bin but, unlike San Francisco, it did not mandate that all food waste go in there.

Newsom floated the mandatory recycling idea in April 2008 as he faced the city’s self-imposed goals of having a 75 percent recycling rate in 2010, with zero waste by 2020.

The rationale behind the move is clear. Material like food scraps and plant clippings that go into landfills take up costly space and decompose to form methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. About 36 percent of what San Francisco sends to landfill is compostable, and another 31 percent is recyclable, a comprehensive study found. By the city’s count, it currently diverts 72 percent of its waste, best in the nation. If recyclables and compostables going into landfills were diverted, the city’s recycling rate would jump to 90 percent, Blumenfeld said.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle

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