| Send Us Your Scraps
By Gavin Newsom, SF Mayor Sep 25, 2009
Tossing your empty Coke cans and water bottles in the recycling bin has become an important part of reducing waste. However, there is still more to be done and fortunately it’s as easy as adding another bin to the bunch.
Recently, I signed the nation’s first mandatory composting law requiring residents and businesses in San Francisco to compost food scraps. This legislation will assist us in reaching our goal of diverting 75 percent of our resources from landfill by 2010 and achieving zero waste by 2020.
Contrary to media reports, there will be no “trash cops” scouring the city for compost violators mixing chicken bones and plastic plates. Under the old system, the City’s trash collectors tagged recycling containers with incorrect materials, sent letters, called and visited bad actors. The new legislation will use the exact same system, only now the worst violators will be subject to fines.
San Franciscans will be eased into new recycling and composting habits over the course of a few years. In fact, there will be no fines for incorrect garbage separation at multi-family or multi-tenant commercial properties until these regulations are adopted in 2011.
Fines will range from $100-$1,000, but may not exceed $100 for small generators (anyone producing up to one cubic-yard of trash per week). Violators are also allowed to appeal fines if they feel they have been unjustly imposed.
These warnings are meant as an opportunity for education and assistance, and the fines are simply a way of motivating people to do the right thing. By complying with these recycling methods, residents are investing in their future and making San Francisco a cleaner place to live.
To help with the transition, building owners and managers will be required to maintain color-coded, labeled containers in convenient locations and educate tenants, employees and contractors on how to separate materials.
The Department of the Environment will also be conducting free workshops, supplying materials and providing other assistance needed for people to properly compost their degradable waste. Composting will not be any more difficult than dumping your food scraps in the trash. It simply means putting your organic material in a separate container. Residents will be able to receive a free kitchen pail for scraps from Sunset Scavenger or Golden Gate Disposal; and if you would like to start a compost pile in your own backyard, the Garden for the Environment even offers free monthly urban composting workshops.
Currently, San Francisco already converts over 400 tons of food scraps and other compostable discards into high-grade organic compost every day. It’s so nutrient-rich that the final product is almost jet black in color. It's snapped up so quickly by farms and vineyards across the Bay Area that we can barely keep up with the demand. By requiring all residents and businesses to compost, we’ll increase the amount of “black gold” available for sustainable regional agriculture in the Bay Area and improve our environment.
In addition, composting food scraps produces little to no methane – a potent greenhouse gas that is formed when food scraps are sent to landfill – because there is sufficient oxygen in the process. And using the resulting compost reduces greenhouse gases by returning carbon to the soil, increasing plant growth, and reducing emissions associated with chemical fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation. Recent studies show that farming one acre of land using conventional industrial methods releases 3,700 pounds of carbon into the atmosphere each year. Farmed sustainably, with compost and cover crops, that same acre will put 12,000 pounds of carbon back into the earth.
It will take time, but I believe mandatory composting will spread across the country and composting will become second nature for Americans, just like sorting bottles and paper. We will all reap the benefits by improving the air we breathe and reducing our need for landfills.
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