JULY 2009

San Francisco recycling hits highest rate in the nation
Mandatory construction debris recycling accounts for lowest tonnage landfilled in over 30 years

The City of San Francisco and its residents are closing in on the city’s goal of 75 percent landfill diversion by 2010. New statistics show that the city kept 72 percent of all recyclable material from going to the landfill, up from 70 percent the year before. The most significant gain was in the area of recycling material from building sites, thanks to the city’s 2006 Mandatory Construction and Demolition Debris Recovery Ordinance.

“By requiring builders to recycle debris from construction projects, we were able to divert tens of thousands of new tons of material away from the landfill,” said Mayor Gavin Newsom. “Clearly, mandatory recycling measures pay off; if we’re going to reach a recycling rate of 75 percent in 2010 and zero waste by 2020, we need to make sure that residents and businesses are taking full advantage of our composting and recycling programs.”

The figures compiled by the City’s Department of the Environment (SF Environment) show that San Francisco generated 2,100,943 tons of waste material in 2007. Of this, only 617,833 tons went to landfill, the lowest disposal rate since 1977.

The increased recovery of construction and demolition debris is a positive trend. However, SF Environment data shows that over two-thirds of the landfill-bound material was recyclable, with nearly 40 percent consisting of mixed compostables (mostly food scraps and soiled paper), 15 percent recyclable paper, and 15 percent other mixed recyclables.

“If we captured everything going to landfill that could have been recycled or composted, we’d have a 90 percent recycling rate” observed SF environment director Jared Blumenfeld. “The Board of Supervisors will soon be considering an ordinance that will require residents and businesses to sign up and use the recycling and composting programs, which we need to make our goals.”

Mandatory recycling is an established best practice in the field of waste management, and many governments have mandated recycling various materials, or conversely banned them from landfills. Major cities including Seattle, Pittsburgh, Honolulu and San Diego have successfully implemented mandatory recycling programs. Garbage collection has been mandatory in San Francisco since 1932.