San Francisco might be known for its foggy weather, winning sports teams and progressive politics, but it can now add another badge to its collection – being the best at recycling. Through source reduction, reuse and mandatory recycling and composting programs, the City by the Bay now diverts from the landfill nearly 80 percent of its waste.
In a world where recycling programs are deemed successful for reaching a 30 percent diversion rate, San Francisco’s is, quite literally, in a league of its own.
Having blown by its goal of recycling 75 percent of waste by 2020, San Francisco is now striving to achieve zero waste within the same timeframe.
“Innovative policies, financial incentives, as well as outreach and education are all effective tools in our toolbox that have helped San Francisco reach 80 percent diversion,” said San Francisco Department of Environment Director, Melanie Nutter. “We would not have achieved this milestone without the hard work and partnership of many people and businesses across the City.”
San Francisco’s recycling program has been so successful largely due to the fact that it accepts more materials for recycling than most other cities, made possible through its partnership with Recology. The city also requires households and businesses to compost and recycle.
Back when other cities were still focused on implementing basic recycling initiatives, San Francisco was the first to require composting, which has helped it to meet its goal of slashing greenhouse gas emissions 12 percent below 1990 levels. To make things simple, the city uses color-coded bins to indicate where to place particular waste items – blue for recycling, green for food scraps and other organics and black for garbage that cannot (yet) be recycled.
The city also has expanded its inaugural ban on non-compostable plastic bags to include almost all retailers in the city.
San Francisco’s green roots run deep into its culture. Last year’s Giants playoffs at AT&T Park diverted more than 80 percent of game day waste; the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival recycled 85 percent of its waste; and the Castro Street Festival saved 76 percent of waste from the landfill.
In 2012, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a law extending the requirement for recycling and composting to commercial businesses that generate four or more cubic yards of waste a week, as well as multifamily dwellings with five or more units. According to Californians Against Waste, while businesses generate some two-thirds of the waste stream, few actually recycle.