S.F. composting, recycling becomes law Wednesday

October 20, 2009 at 11:25 AM Leave a comment

Alexa Franz, a fifth-grade teacher who rents an apartment in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights, had a little surprise when she went to take out her recycling recently – a new, shiny green composting cart.

“It kind of just appeared one day,” said Franz, 25. “I was taking the recycling out, and there it was.”

Welcome to the new reality in San Francisco, where landlords and property owners are scrambling to comply with a mandatory composting and recycling law that takes effect Wednesday.

The law, the most comprehensive in the country, is an aggressive push by Mayor Gavin Newsom to cut greenhouse gas emissions, return carbon to the soil, and have the city sending nothing to landfills or incinerators by 2020.

Mandatory Composting and Recycling in SF

Mandatory Composting and Recycling in SF

The ordinance, with some exceptions, requires every residence and business to have three separate color-coded bins for waste: blue for recycling, green for compost and black for trash.

Failing to properly sort refuse could result in a fine after several warnings. But city officials say fines, starting at $100 and potentially escalating to $1,000, will not come for months and will initially be levied only if homeowners repeatedly refuse to even sign up for composting bins, which are supplied to residents at no extra cost.

There is a moratorium on fines until at least July 2011 for tenants and owners of multifamily buildings or multi-tenant commercial properties to get people used to composting.

Demand for the wheeled green bins has soared since the ordinance was signed in June, said Robert Reed, a spokesman for the city’s waste collection companies, both subsidiaries of Recology, formerly Norcal Waste Systems.

“We’re delivering over 100 green carts a day,” Reed said. “A year ago that would have been 15 or 20 a day.”

Recology has doubled the number of trucks delivering the carts in the past year and has hired more customer service workers to handle requests, he said.

In June, only 22 percent of the city’s roughly 9,000 large apartment buildings composted. Since then, the number has jumped to 37 percent, Reed said.

“That’s progress,” he said.

The amount of material turned into “San Francisco gold,” compost that cuts down on methane emissions from landfill, returns carbon to the soil and is prized by farmers and vintners for its rich nutrients, has grown in the past year from 400 tons a day to about 500, Reed said.

“You can see that this is already working very effectively,” Reed said.

Landlords are concerned tenants could ask the rent board to lower their rent by arguing that mandatory trash sorting amounts to a decrease in services, a theory city officials rejected because the new requirements apply universally.

One downside to the composting push is how long it takes to get a green cart. The wait is currently two to three weeks.

But don’t sweat that Wednesday deadline if you’ve already requested a composting cart.

City officials plan on engaging in extensive outreach, rather than fines, at least through the new year, said Jared Blumenfeld, head of the Environment Department.

“It’s about a dialogue,” Blumenfeld said. “As we’ve always promised, we are not going to start off fining people. … Really our focus is to make sure tenants have the tools they need to recycle.”

For more information, visit www.sfenvironment.org.

How to get composting and recycling carts

Residential customers in San Francisco can get composting or recycling carts at no additional charge. To request a cart, call your waste disposal company.

Recology-Sunset (formerly Sunset Scavenger): (415) 330-1300

Recology-Golden Gate (formerly Golden Gate Disposal & Recycling): (415) 626-4000

Starting today, Recology also plans to accept online requests for composting carts at recologysf.com. Your account number is required to order one online.

If you’re a tenant and you want a composting cart, contact your landlord. If the landlord refuses to act, call the city’s Department of the Environment: (415) 355-3700.

Additional information can be found at: sfenvironment.org.

E-mail John Coté at jcote@sfchronicle.com.



Entry filed under: composting, recycling. Tags: , , , , , .

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