Yesterday, Mayor Gavin Newsom signed one of the first legislations of its kind in the country: a mandatory law requiring residential and commercial building owners to recycle and compost. While several other cities require recycling service and participation, San Francisco is the first city to require the collection of food scraps and other compostables.
Based on a study by the California Integrated Waste Management Board, food discards comprise 10% of the total municipal waste stream, and the majority of that comes from the commercial sector. In the same study, the Waste Management Board found that over 40% of the waste produced by both the retail food store and restaurant sectors is compostable food and paper refuse.
If all of the recyclable and compostable materials currently going to landfills were captured by the city’s programs, according to the San Francisco Department of the Environment, San Francisco’s recycling rate would soar to 90%.
“San Francisco has the best recycling and composting programs in the nation, and we’ve already attained an impressive, and first in the nation, 72% recycling rate because of them,” said Mayor Newsom.
No fines are specified in the ordinance, but there is a cap of $100 established for residences and businesses that generate less than one cubic yard of refuse per week, which is the equivalent of six 32-gallon carts. Fines higher than $100 may still apply to businesses and to landlords of large apartment buildings who refuse to offer recycling and composting opportunities to tenants when feasible.
The Mayor said that cities with mandatory recycling and fines, such as Seattle, rarely assess such fines. He stressed that fines serve primarily to heighten public awareness and encourage compliance.
Newsom wrote in a GreenBiz blog yesterday, “I believe that composting will become second nature for Americans, just like sorting bottles and paper. It will take time, but I believe mandatory composting will spread across the country — improving the air we breathe and reducing our need for landfills.”