Hello from San Francisco! I arrived here in the Bay area a week ago and have been greatly surprised and impressed with the city’s eco-friendliness. San Francisco seems one step ahead of the green curve, encouraging conservation and passing laws to ensure the future sustainability of the city.
Immediately I noticed the crisp, clean air and, at a closer glance, saw electric buses, hybrid cars and compost bins. That’s right, compost bins. In addition to the trash and recycling bins, San Francisco residents also place a green compost bin at the end of their driveways.
These bins are only one of the city’s many initiatives to reduce its’ carbon footprint and become more sustainable. The San Francisco Department of the Environment and Commission on the Environment work together to develop programs and suggest policies to reduce wastes, toxic material and emissions as well as to improve air and water quality and to increase efficiency in transportation and energy use.
The Mandatory Recycling and Composting Ordinance, effective in October 2009, requires residents to separate trash, recyclables and compostables into respective bins. This ordinance is part of the city’s goal of diverting 75% of waste from landfills by 2010 and achieving zero waste by 2020.
The ordinance states that San Francisco residents, visitors and businesses contribute to the accumulation of over two million tons of waste per year. It continues, noting that voluntary recycling and composting efforts reduce the amount of trash in landfills. However, approximately 660,000 tons of waste from the city entered landfills in 2006. Analyzing diversion trends, the city recognized that if voluntary recycling and composting continued, the goal of 75% reduction by 2010 would not be attainable. The ordinance notes that a study found that 36% of the contents the city sends to landfills are compostable and 31% are recyclable.
In an attempt to reach the goals, the city implemented the recycling and composting ordinance. So what belongs in the green bins? Food scraps, or anything that was once alive, including eggshells, meat bones, shellfish, fruits and vegetables can go in the bin. Also, most paper used in the kitchen such as greasy pizza boxes, paper plates, bags, napkins and cups can be composted along with yard scraps and any plastics labeled “compostable.” (A complete list of compostables is available at SFRecycling.com.)
As for recyclables, you can toss in metal cans, foil, even clean paint cans. Also use the blue bins for plastic cups, containers and bottles, as well as newspaper, cereal boxes, cardboard, egg cartons and more. Not permitted in the recycling bins; however, are plastic bags. Luckily, the Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance has dramatically reduced the number of plastic bags floating around the city. The ordinance went into effect in 2007 and states that large supermarkets (with annual grosses over $2 million) and pharmacies with five or more locations in San Francisco may not distribute plastic bags.
If San Francisco residents shop efficiently, compost responsibly and recycle mindfully, achieving zero waste is quite possible. The city will also reward waste reduction efforts. City residents pay a standard $25.48 for a 32-gallon garbage can, but if they reduce waste to 20-gallons, they pay only $19.62.
Another noticeable effort is the presence of electric buses and buses running on biodiesel. These measures are part of an effort to reduce air pollution. Another initiative includes Spare the Air. Spare the Air, developed by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, takes steps toward improving the city’s air quality. During the summer, the Spare the Air Program alerts city residents on days when pollution levels are high and asks that they drive less and reduce emissions on that day. In the winter, a Spare the Air day prohibits the burning of wood, fire logs or pellets or in fireplaces or woodstoves.
The environmental efforts in San Francisco are certainly respectable and set an ideal example for cities around the world. Perhaps it’s time for cities in Connecticut to follow San Francisco’s lead.
Photo courtesy of TrashMenagerie.com.