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Game On: San Francisco Board of Supervisors OKs Mandatory Recycling

San Francisco to Require Recycling and Food Waste Composting for All BuildingsSkins vs. shirts, Army vs. Navy, Spy vs. Spy: now you can add San Francisco vs. Food Scraps to the all-star list of classic matchups.  Not satisfied with its stunning recycling rate of 70%, the city of the future is on its way to requiring all residential and commercial building owners to sign up for recycling and composting services, including food scrap composting.  This move could boost the city’s recycling rate to 90%.  The San Francisco Board of Supervisors just passed the ordinance on a first reading today, and it will go back for a second reading and final vote next week.

San Francisco and the Recycling Trend

San Francisco has a well deserved rep for tapping into cultural sea changes long before they sweep into the mainstream.  According to San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, public support for recycling has outpaced the resources needed to support it.  He cites a disconnect between the city’s many renters and the services offered by their buildings.  “Many tenants want to recycle and compost,” he stated in today’s blog posting, “But the building does not offer the service.  We’re going to change that.”

San Francisco and Food Scraps

San Francisco may be the first and only city in the U.S. to require food scrap recycling.  But it certainly won’t be the last.  According to the U.S. EPA, by volume food scraps account for the single biggest part of municipal waste, about 12.5 %.  Saturated with water, food scraps are heavier than many other kinds of waste, harder to incinerate, and more costly to ship to landfills.  For bottom line reasons alone, more municipalities are beginning to look at food scrap recycling.

Food Scraps and Compost

The U.S. EPA also has some interesting things to say about composting food scraps.  Aside from creating nutrient-rich soil, the composting process remediates and prevents pollution.  It breaks down volatile organic compounds, binds heavy metals to prevent them from leaching into groundwater, and can even eliminate wood preservatives, pesticides, and other toxic chemicals.  It prevents runoff, erosion and silting from surfaces such as roads, athletic fields, and golf courses.  And, to top it all off, diverting food scraps to compost piles will help reduce methane production from landfills.

But wait, there’s more: once food scrap recycling reaches the mainstream, there will be pressure on food producers to help keep the nation’s compost supply safer and healthier, by keeping harmful chemicals out of crops and processed foods.  And that’s a good thing.

Food Scrap Composting and Food

With more city dwellers turning to urban agriculture, tossing out tons of valuable food scraps suddenly makes no sense at all.  Look for the food scrap recycling trend to pick up steam, but there is a hitch.  One thing holding it back right now is the lack of large scale composting facilities.

Pumping more federal dollars into tax breaks and subsidies for food scrap recycling would speed things up, but meanwhile, back in The Land That Time Forgot, a number of state representatives at our nation’s capital have just announced an “energy plan” that calls for subsidizing – the same old fuels that got us into this mess.  Hey guys, wake up!

h/t to Think Progress.

Image:  William Holtkamp on


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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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