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Green Jobs Recycling Gavin Newsom

Published on May 12th, 2009 | by Gavin Newsom

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Recycling Our Way to a More Sustainable Future




Recycling Gavin Newsom

Editor’s note: This post is a contribution by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. See his last post on electric vehicle charging infrastructure or all of his previous posts here. A companion piece was also posted on RedGreenandBlue.org earlier today.

San Francisco is a city that knows how to recycle. We work hard to give new life to our paper, bottles, cans and other waste.

New statistics released today show we are keeping 72 percent of all discards from going to the landfill – up from 70 percent the year before.

That’s a big leap for one year. The most significant gains came from the recycling of material from building sites – due in large part to our 2006 mandatory Construction and Demolition Debris Recovery Ordinance.

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By requiring builders to recycle debris from construction projects, we were able to divert tens of thousands of new tons of material away from the landfill. This ordinance is unique in that it doesn’t require deposits or bonds, making it small business-friendly and limiting the amount of bureaucracy needed to implement the program.

When it comes to our recycling programs, we’re always in the development phase. In order to meet our ambitious goal of 75 percent recycling by 2010 and zero waste by 2020, we are constantly looking for additional materials to recycle, and for emerging markets to make use of our recyclables.

A few years back we developed—along with the company Recology, our partner in recycling — an innovative program to collect food scraps and turn them into organic soil. Local farms and vineyards now use this soil to grow crops, which are then sold back to consumers in San Francisco. We close the loop locally.

We’ve also recently started recycling almost all types of plastic. We take everything except plastic bags and Styrofoam. Most of it gets made into plastic molding and bender board.

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About the Author

was the youngest San Francisco mayor in over a century when he was elected at the age of 41. Newsom, the son of William and Tessa Newsom, grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. He attended Santa Clara University on a partial baseball scholarship, graduating in 1989 with a B.A. in political science. After only 36 days as mayor, Newsom gained worldwide attention when he granted marriage licenses to same-sex couples. This bold move set the tone for Newsom’s first term. Under his energetic leadership, the economy grew and jobs were created. The city became a center for biotech and clean tech. He initiated a plan to bring universal health care to all of the city’s uninsured residents. And Newsom aggressively pursued local solutions to global climate change. In 2007, Newsom was re-elected with over 73% of the vote. Since then he has built upon the successes of his first term, launching new environmental initiatives and a comprehensive strategy to transform one of the city’s most troubled neighborhoods into a life sciences, digital media, and clean tech center.



  • http://www.ahowz.com/ michael

    now we need other cities and countries to get there recycling stats sorted.

  • http://gomakesolarpanels.com/cheap-solar-power/ cheap solar power

    This problem of recycling is easily solved through the mechanism that
    creates the waste. Almost all products sold today have a bar code label
    on them, this embeds data such as product name, size, mfg date, etc.

    This bar code could be amended or appended with either more
    information or an additional bar code containing information on the
    materials that comprise the container holding the product. Plastics
    could tell a bar code reader machine exactly what they are composed of
    making automated sorting extremely simple and cheap.

  • Pingback: Recycling In San Francisco Made Easy With The iPhone : CleanTechnica

  • political opinion

    ehalaseycome on, you have to admit muni buses smell like urine.

  • political opinion

    ehalaseycome on, you have to admit muni buses smell like urine.

  • http://www.karmafarmonline.com Angie Ringler

    Thanks for the post. Glad to know come cities are leading the way! We can all make a difference by making small changes everyday. Just one attempt each day towards better recycling habits, can make a world of difference. Try it, it won’t bite. angie@karmafarmonline.com

  • http://www.karmafarmonline.com Angie Ringler

    Thanks for the post. Glad to know come cities are leading the way! We can all make a difference by making small changes everyday. Just one attempt each day towards better recycling habits, can make a world of difference. Try it, it won’t bite. angie@karmafarmonline.com

  • Sharon

    Wow, this is so encouraging to read that cities like San Francisco are taking such great intitiatives to live greener. I think that we can expect recyling programs to really take off in the near future and other green alternatives to landfills/incineration such as plasma gasification will help with the rest of the waste that just can’t be recycled.

    These new technologies that are emerging are so interesting, and I think that we will see a positive change in the way we think about and handle our garbage. I was doing some research on the subject and came across this neat video:

    http://www.plascoenergygroup.com/?Media_Centre#Animated-Video

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YllIj_bzl5A

    Wouldn’t it be great if SFO completly eliminated dependence on landfills??

  • Sharon

    Wow, this is so encouraging to read that cities like San Francisco are taking such great intitiatives to live greener. I think that we can expect recyling programs to really take off in the near future and other green alternatives to landfills/incineration such as plasma gasification will help with the rest of the waste that just can’t be recycled.

    These new technologies that are emerging are so interesting, and I think that we will see a positive change in the way we think about and handle our garbage. I was doing some research on the subject and came across this neat video:

    http://www.plascoenergygroup.com/?Media_Centre#Animated-Video

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YllIj_bzl5A

    Wouldn’t it be great if SFO completly eliminated dependence on landfills??

  • http://www.debtimprovement.com free of debt

    Does anyone know if the chemical waste thats the result of recycling is included in the denominator of that percentage?

  • http://www.debtimprovement.com free of debt

    Does anyone know if the chemical waste thats the result of recycling is included in the denominator of that percentage?

  • Robert

    I wis NYC would learn from SF.

  • Robert

    I wis NYC would learn from SF.

  • Shirah

    “New statistics released today show we are keeping 72 percent of all discards from going to the landfill – up from 70 percent the year before.”

    This is really awesome news, coming from such a large city. It shows that even small steps can greatly and positively change the environment. This is a great example for the rest of the world.

    Here at the University of Vermont, (http://learn.uvm.edu/igs ) we realize that creating a more sustainable world is more obtainable when it becomes accessible and is encountered in a day to day basis.

  • Shirah

    “New statistics released today show we are keeping 72 percent of all discards from going to the landfill – up from 70 percent the year before.”

    This is really awesome news, coming from such a large city. It shows that even small steps can greatly and positively change the environment. This is a great example for the rest of the world.

    Here at the University of Vermont, (http://learn.uvm.edu/igs ) we realize that creating a more sustainable world is more obtainable when it becomes accessible and is encountered in a day to day basis.

  • http://www.greenbizcheck.com/ Marc

    This is a true success story, if SFO can do it anyone can. Governments and councils need to hear this story and perhaps use it as a benchmark for what they should be aiming for. Perhaps topics like this will be raised at the UNFCCC?

  • http://www.greenbizcheck.com/ Marc

    This is a true success story, if SFO can do it anyone can. Governments and councils need to hear this story and perhaps use it as a benchmark for what they should be aiming for. Perhaps topics like this will be raised at the UNFCCC?

  • http://www.maureenfuttner.com Maureen Futtner

    Recycling is so easy and look what it can do. Props to us in San Francisco!

  • http://www.maureenfuttner.com Maureen Futtner

    Recycling is so easy and look what it can do. Props to us in San Francisco!

  • Lindsay

    Yeah, I’m less worried about the recycles in the bin, and more worried about the trash, feces, urine, and general filth on the streets throughout the ENTIRE city.

    No amount of recycling makes San Francisco a “clean” city, and it’s still far from being ecologically sound (as seen by the huge amount of congestion and pollution from the high density of people and cars at all hours of the day and night)

  • Lindsay

    Yeah, I’m less worried about the recycles in the bin, and more worried about the trash, feces, urine, and general filth on the streets throughout the ENTIRE city.

    No amount of recycling makes San Francisco a “clean” city, and it’s still far from being ecologically sound (as seen by the huge amount of congestion and pollution from the high density of people and cars at all hours of the day and night)

  • Uyvsdi

    A huge thanks needs to go to all the homeless people that collect cans and bottles on a daily basis – proactively searching for recycleables.

  • Uyvsdi

    A huge thanks needs to go to all the homeless people that collect cans and bottles on a daily basis – proactively searching for recycleables.

  • http://www.digitalovercast.com Kien

    @J.Luc Marcoux – You have my vote. Newsom is awesome. Other Mayors can learn a thing or two from him on the 3 R’s.

  • http://www.digitalovercast.com Kien

    @J.Luc Marcoux – You have my vote. Newsom is awesome. Other Mayors can learn a thing or two from him on the 3 R’s.

  • http://www.digitalovercast.com Kien

    @Jeff Berlin – I agree, when I was in Tokyo, the city had recycle bins for plastic bottles and aluminum cans next to EVERY vending machine, which are found on practically every street corner. Very impressed with SF though for their efforts and setting goal of recycling 75 percent by 2010. Dugg.

  • http://www.digitalovercast.com Kien

    @Jeff Berlin – I agree, when I was in Tokyo, the city had recycle bins for plastic bottles and aluminum cans next to EVERY vending machine, which are found on practically every street corner. Very impressed with SF though for their efforts and setting goal of recycling 75 percent by 2010. Dugg.

  • J.Luc Marcoux

    Great news. it’s with news like this that we can make a difference. The old Reduce Reuse Recycle message should be better promoted as a simple mean to a better planet.

    I wish we had a mayor like Newsom promoting recycling. How about Chief Recycling Advocate in the Obama administration.

  • J.Luc Marcoux

    Great news. it’s with news like this that we can make a difference. The old Reduce Reuse Recycle message should be better promoted as a simple mean to a better planet.

    I wish we had a mayor like Newsom promoting recycling. How about Chief Recycling Advocate in the Obama administration.

  • Jeff Berlin

    Good stuff. There are still some glaring obvious places where recycling could cover more ground so to speak.

    Was in SFO yesterday looking intently to recycle my bottle of what had been orange juice. To my surprise no program was in place.

    These areas of high traffic could up that percentile if equipped with recycling options. Thanks

  • zensunni

    Try getting all offices in UCSF to require recycling. There is a lot of waste that comes from the medical center and supporting offices within UCSF. All UC campuses should truly be green rather than claiming they are that way.

  • zensunni

    Try getting all offices in UCSF to require recycling. There is a lot of waste that comes from the medical center and supporting offices within UCSF. All UC campuses should truly be green rather than claiming they are that way.

  • Alicia

    Amazing. As a recent transplant from SF to Honolulu i miss all the great recycling opprotunities. Everyone needs to look to SF as an example.

  • Alicia

    Amazing. As a recent transplant from SF to Honolulu i miss all the great recycling opprotunities. Everyone needs to look to SF as an example.

  • theo

    @Jeff — I was under the impression that SFO sorted trash and recyclables for you.

    It doesn’t make much sense to do the recycling on planes, since space is at a premium. It would make more sense to do it at the airport.

  • theo

    @Jeff — I was under the impression that SFO sorted trash and recyclables for you.

    It doesn’t make much sense to do the recycling on planes, since space is at a premium. It would make more sense to do it at the airport.

  • Jeff

    @Jeff Berlin: In SF recyclables are culled out of trash so technically there’s no need for a separate “recycling” container–just put your bottle in the “trash”.

  • Jeff

    @Jeff Berlin: In SF recyclables are culled out of trash so technically there’s no need for a separate “recycling” container–just put your bottle in the “trash”.

  • http://www.venuepath.com Sam G. Daniel

    I’m impressed. I would never think that would be possible, have to give it to SF for achieving this goal. Is there a site to check out what the recycle rate is for NYC, Boston or anywhere else? It would be interesting to know how other cities rank.

  • http://www.venuepath.com Sam G. Daniel

    I’m impressed. I would never think that would be possible, have to give it to SF for achieving this goal. Is there a site to check out what the recycle rate is for NYC, Boston or anywhere else? It would be interesting to know how other cities rank.

  • http://www.usine21.org Simon

    Actually, as I understand if from this article: 1.http://www.economist.com/science/tq/displaystory.cfm?story_id=9249262 the waste is not collected separately ( “single stream” collection), but is separated mostly automatically at a facility dedicated only to waste separation. So there is no need for a specific container for bottles, and another for cans etc.

  • http://www.usine21.org Simon

    Actually, as I understand if from this article: 1.http://www.economist.com/science/tq/displaystory.cfm?story_id=9249262 the waste is not collected separately ( “single stream” collection), but is separated mostly automatically at a facility dedicated only to waste separation. So there is no need for a specific container for bottles, and another for cans etc.

  • wikiBuddha

    I thought SFO would actually be within San Bruno city limits, but it does have an SF address, so the recommendations on the SFO improvements are justified. That also makes me ask why they couldn’t put recycling bins on the BART trains (though they likely exist in the stations).

    I wonder how much the sporting stadiums contribute to the recycling.

  • wikiBuddha

    I thought SFO would actually be within San Bruno city limits, but it does have an SF address, so the recommendations on the SFO improvements are justified. That also makes me ask why they couldn’t put recycling bins on the BART trains (though they likely exist in the stations).

    I wonder how much the sporting stadiums contribute to the recycling.

  • chrisp68

    What about all the garbage on the planes flying into SFO or any airport for that matter. None of the trash is recycled on planes… It is so easy just to collect the cans, plastic and paper.

    Apparently airlines need to cut costs in other ways… no peanuts.

  • chrisp68

    What about all the garbage on the planes flying into SFO or any airport for that matter. None of the trash is recycled on planes… It is so easy just to collect the cans, plastic and paper.

    Apparently airlines need to cut costs in other ways… no peanuts.

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