Green Business Bureau Blog


San Francisco Passes Agressive Recycling Law


The recently passed composting and recycling law in San Francisco is probably the most aggressive green law in the United States. The law is comprehensive and mandatory. It requires residents and commercial building owners to recycle their wastes into color coded bins which are blue, green and black. Blue is for recycling composed of (1) paper e.g. cardboard, computer papers, newspapers (2) glass and aluminum e.g. aluminum cans, aluminum foils, glass bottles and (3) plastic e.g. plastic bottles, plastic containers, plastic tubs and lids among others. Green is for composting which consists of (1) paper e.g. paper towels, paper plates, tea bags, coffee grounds and filter (2) food e.g. fruits, vegetables, cheese, eggshells etc. and (3) plants e.g. leaves, grass, plant and tree trimmings, weeds among others. Black is categorized for landfill wastes made up of light bulbs (no fluorescent), coat hangers, Styrofoam packaging, potato chip bags among others.

San Francisco is well known for its green efforts particularly in recycling and composting programs. In fact, the city has proclaimed its goal to significantly reduce its trash and at the same time strengthen recycling efforts by 75% rate in 2010 and zero waste by the year 2020 as stated in San Francisco’s Zero Waste Resolution.  Since food scraps and plant trimmings decompose into intoxicating greenhouse gas in the form of methane, the ordinance is perceived as timely and justified. However, some residents and building owners are not too happy about the idea. One of the Board of Supervisors Sean Elnberd says:

“We’ve got a huge problem in my district and a lot of other parts of the city with people who go in and out of garbage cans at night scavenging. Who’s going to be responsible for that? Are we creating a whole brand-new problem?”

Implementation will allow garbage collectors to sort through their garbage which of course is deemed as invasion of privacy.

But garbage collection companies insist that they will only look on the top of container and they have no intention of sifting through every trash in every bin. If done improperly, the garbage collectors will leave tags on the containers.

The law imposes fines on offenders. But the head of the Department of Environment in San Francisco, Jared Blumenfeld said “We don’t want to fine people.” Warnings through notices and phone calls will be acted upon for violators and fines will only be imposed to recurring and blatant offenders.

A household or building which disposes less than a cubic yard of wastes is initially covered at $100 while business buildings without color coded bins and proper disposal procedures can be fined up to $500.

There is good news though for multifamily building owners and tenants as well as commercial properties as moratorium for fines is set to take effect on July 2011 to enable them to get familiar with composting methods.

The goals that the State of San Francisco seeks to realize are bold initiatives that will determine the future of green advocacies within communities. While others perceive the program as excess and unnecessary, green individuals and organizations support and encourage other states and localities to emulate past and present green proactive measures.


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