San Francisco passes tough recycling, composting law

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has passed a mandatory composting law that is believed to be the strictest such ordinance in the nation. Residents will be required to have three color-coded trash bins, for trash, recycling, and compost. Residents and businesses that fail to recycle or compost the appropriate waste could be fined. San Francisco, which boasts a recycling rate of 72 percent, has aggressively pursued green initiatives such as banning plastic bags at supermarkets. The city eventually wants to eliminate all waste going to landfills by 2020.

Robert Reed, a spokesman for Recology (formerly Norcal Waste), said that waste collectors will not pick through anyone’s garbage. Rather, if workers notice recyclables from bins being emptied, they will leave “a love note” alerting the customer of non-compliance.

A moratorium on imposing fines will end in 2010, after which repeat offenders like individuals and small businesses generating less than a cubic yard of refuse a week face fines of up to $100. Businesses that don’t provide the proper containers face a $500 fine.

A comprehensive study conducted by the Department of the Environment found that 36 percent of what San Francisco sends to landfills is compostable, primarily food scraps, and 31 percent is recyclable — which is mostly paper. There are facilities in the City and surrounding areas that reuse, recycle, compost or otherwise process and market most materials discarded in San Francisco, saving this material from landfill and creating green-collar jobs.

San Francisco Mayor Newsom said a primary goal of the mandatory recycling ordinance, which was cosponsored by Supervisors Ross Mirkarimi and Chris Daly, is to get recycling and composting happening in buildings where it is not currently provided.

Newsom said that if all of the recyclable and compostable materials currently going to landfills were captured by our programs, San Francisco’s recycling rate would soar from 70 percent to 90 percent.