DECEMBER 2009

San Francisco law mandates residential waste separation

The most comprehensive recycling law in the nation went into effect in San Francisco in October. People who do not properly sort their garbage will get warnings and could be subject to fines.

Everyone in San Francisco is now required, by law, to have three different recycling bins – black for trash, blue for recycling and green for composting things like coffee grinds, egg shells and last night’s leftovers.

San Franciscans generally do pretty well with the blue bins to recycle cans, bottles and paper. The new law is an aggressive push to force every resident and business to use the green bins to compost food scraps.

“It’s helping us keep things out of landfills and it also returns nutrients to the soil and helps prevent global warming,” San Francisco Department of the Environment spokesperson Jean Walsh said.

The city says it already diverts more than 70 percent of its waste from landfills. The goal is to send nothing there by the year 2020, so the green bins are key.

More than 100 new bins are being delivered to homes and offices every day and outreach workers are going door to door to educate customers.

“We often hear concerns about odor and bugs; that’s really a false phobia, there are lots of ways to handle food scraps in the kitchen or at work, put it in a paper bag or a compostable bag and close it up and at the end of the day toss it in a green cart,“ garbage-collection company Recology spokesperson Robert Reed said.

Reed estimates about one-third of the city’s apartment buildings, half the homes, most restaurants and even high rise offices are on board. Those who do not get with the program face fines starting at $100 dollars, but the emphasis these first few months is on education.

The city says there will not be such a thing as garbage cops, inspectors lifting lids to see if residents correctly sorted their trash. They will focus first on making sure everyone has ordered the bins and signed up for the program.