Starting next week, food-waste recycling will be mandatory in San Francisco. No more banana peels and uneaten Brussels sprouts entombed in plastic in a landfill — they'll now be headed to a more useful place.
Under the city's new Universal Recycling and Composting Ordinance that takes effect Oct. 21, all residents must carefully sort their trash into recyclables (cans, bottles and paper), trash, and compostables, meaning food waste, plant trimmings, soiled paper and other items that can be converted to compost.
In keeping with the city's ultra-green image, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 9-2 earlier this year to pass the ordinance in an attempt to do away with landfills and incinerators entirely — and, in the process, to cut emissions of greenhouse gases. Landfills produce , a global warming gas that is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Food waste composting isn’t new. Many of San Francisco’s residents and restaurants already send some 400 tons of food scraps to Recology's Jepson-Prairie in Vacaville.
The now makes it mandatory. And the penalties — $100 per violation for residents, $500 for businesses — are significant enough to encourage even the recalcitrant, or merely lazy, to get in step with Mayor Gavin Newsom's goal of zero waste by 2020.
The city already diverts almost three-quarters of waste away from its landfill. According to Robert Reed, a spokesman for San Francisco collectors Sunset Scavenger Co. and Golden Gate Disposal & Recycling Co. (both subsidiaries of Recology), the food waste-to-compost is an idea whose time has come.
Want to see which communities added food scrap composting just in the last 30 days? he asks. Type "food scrap compost" into Google and click "news" at the top of the page.
The results are surprising, and Reed is right. Composting is a valuable tool that experienced gardeners use to enrich soil worn out by repeated plantings. Compost encourages microbial activity, improves soil structure and enables better water retention. In and around San Francisco, the priceless compost from Recology is used to enrich organic farms and vineyard soils, or offered for resale to garden centers and landscapers.
Compost isn’t just good for soils, though. It's also good for the environment, because making compost removes materials from the waste stream that, in landfills, contribute to the formation of greenhouse gases.
Of course, the same thing happens in a good compost pile, but during composting, the anaerobic digestion is to three weeks as compared to 30 years, meaning fewer gases are released. As Paul Hepperly, research director at the non-profit organic farming , notes:
"Conventional farming — tilling the land, using commercial fertilizers, etc. — puts 3,700 pounds of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere per acre per year. Applying compost, which helps grow 'cover crops' that draw carbon in part from the air, returns 12,000 pounds of carbon a year to the soil."
Bob Shaffer, of Soil Culture Consulting in Glen Ellen, concurs. Shaffer, who has 35 years of experience as an agronomist, horticulturist and viticulturist, and consults with dozens of Bay Area vineyards, explains: