San Francisco, the gleaming city by the sea that houses the Golden Gate Bridge and unnatural amounts of fog also produces about 600 tons of compost a day. The city started the first mandatory composting law in 2009 and the effort has diverted vast amounts of wastes from the landfill. It eventually hopes to reach its goal of 100% waste diversion by 2020. Currently, it diverts up to 77% of its waste from the landfill through recycling programs. Although achieving 100% is darn-near impossible, the fact that the city currently diverts so much of its waste and aims to do more is remarkable.
Everyday 600 tons of food waste are hauled away to be turned into compost. Every residence and business in the city has three different color-coded bins: blue for recyclables, green for compostables, and black for the remaining trash. The city works with Recology to process waste. The composting facility is about an hour outside the city in Vacaville, a farming community.
Many farms buy the compost and these include Old Hill Ranch in Glen Ellen, which is home to 100-year-old vines in Sonoma’s wine county. The compost will be applied here and other vineyards in the fall. The food that the city discards returns to the city as fresh produce and wine, thereby closing the loop.
Many cities have begun to realize that burying garbage is a waste of resources. Landfill mining has never been more popular and several cities have started to realize the potential of waste management. Seattle for example, recycles or composts about 50% of its wastes and is aiming for 77% by 2020. The city has also banned plastic-foam containers and requires all single-use packaging to be compostable. Los Angeles diverts over 65% of its wastes and is aiming for 70% by 2013 but no other city is as ambitious as San Francisco.
San Francisco is hoping to rely on advanced mechanized sorting systems that pick more recyclables from the garbage flow. Recology also uses various technology like anaerobic digestion, state-of-the-art composting facilities and materials recovery facilities. Their fleet runs on biodiesel and LNG, they also voluntarily capture and destroy methane at California landfills, further reducing negative environmental impacts.
America still has a long way to go in order to reduce landfill waste. According to the EPA, in 2009 (the most recent year for which figures are available), roughly 243 million tons of trash was thrown out of American households. This equals to about 4.34 pounds of garbage per person, per data. After recycling, composting and incineration about 132 million tons still end up in landfills every year.
Image Credit: Akhila Vijayaraghavan © Top – San Francisco’s Financial District. Bottom – Compost Heap