Food Recycling Law a Hit in San Fransisco
by David Gorn (NPR)
Tossing food scraps in your garbage can is a crime — at least in San Francisco. A brand-new city law requires residents to discard food waste in a separate bin. It's the first program of its kind in the nation, and so far, it's a mandate San Franciscans seem to relish. In fact, many residents and landlords began implementing the law before it took effect, using their city-provided food recycling bins to separate waste.
After enforcing a food waste rule, the garbage room in the basement of the Cathedral Hill Plaza apartments in San Francisco is no longer a malodorous sty.
"It doesn't smell so bad," says Linda Corso, the apartment manager. "Our trash room doesn't stink like it used to."
That's because none of the wet garbage, the food waste, goes down there anymore, Corso says. Instead, food scraps go into sealed compost bins that get picked up by the city. Corso says the program has significantly trimmed the building's garbage costs.
"We used to have two bins picked up every day," she says. "Now we're down to one bin every day. So we've cut that in half."
Garbage officials in the city have been stunned and heartened by the tons and tons of food waste that is already streaming in. After picking up curbside food scraps, garbage trucks head to the south of the city to the Organics Annex, the heart of the citywide food waste operation. Jared Blumenfeld, the city's environmental officer, says the Organic Annex is already processing about half of the city's food waste, which is more than 500 tons per day.
"You can see a lot of lettuce, tomatoes, old apples, rotten cabbages," Blumenfeld says. "You get a kind of vivid picture here of what's being thrown away."
San Francisco turns all of that food refuse into compost, which is then sold to Bay Area farms and vineyards. The program is the latest effort in one of the most aggressive recycling campaigns in the nation. San Francisco currently keeps 72 percent of its garbage stream out of the landfill by recycling cans, bottles, construction material and cooking oil. Blumenfeld says that even though the program officially launches Wednesday, he's not surprised by how many people are already fully participating.
"We hear a lot about climate change, and what we can do and should do, and what's happening in Congress," Blumenfeld says. "But people want to know what they can, practically, do every single day, and composting your food scraps is probably the single most effective thing you can do as a citizen in the United States today."
Blumenfeld says composting is simpler than it may seem.
"This is not rocket science," he says. "This is putting some food scraps into a different pile and then turning it into compost. If we can't do that, then I really worry about our ability to do some of those more complex things."
The city can fine people for noncompliance, but officials say they are unlikely to use that power except in extreme cases. San Francisco's ultimate and fairly lofty goal — according to Blumenfeld — is to get to zero waste, meaning no garbage at all going into landfills, by the year 2020.