Earth & Conservation

How San Francisco Is Becoming A Zero Waste City

There's a growing movement of cities around the world trying to divert waste away from landfills, and San Francisco is leading the way.

San Francisco, California plans to be a zero waste city by the year 2020. What exactly does zero waste mean? Essentially all of the city's garbage will be recycled or composted; next to nothing will go into a landfill.

Recology is the company making this all possible. They're a private company that handles the processing of San Francisco's compost, recycling and landfill trash. All SF residents and businesses are required by law to separate their garbage into these three categories. The law was passed in 2009 with hopes of getting the city closer to that zero waste status.

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Robert Reed, a spokesman for Recology, told Seeker's Laura Ling, "When I started at Recology 23 years ago, the recycling rate was around 38%; today, we've more than doubled that." In fact, San Francisco has been able to divert 80% of its waste away from landfills, and the world is taking notice.

Ling spoke with Daniel Andersen, Vice Mayor of Alborg, Denmark, about the ways they're incorporating Recology's method into their city's waste management program. Alborg does a lot of incineration but they have yet to start composting on a large scale like San Francisco. After his recent visit to the Recology facility Andersen said "One thing we heard a lot is the value of composting. We don't do that a lot. Maybe we will go home and do more composting."

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650 tons of organic waste is collected in San Francisco every day. It's then brought to the Recology facility where it's ground up and screened for non-organic matter like plastic. A piping system helps to filter out greenhouse gases that are produced by microbes in the compost and are dangerous to the environment. The best part is that after the compost is processed, it's sold to local farmers and vineyards to produce new crops, bringing everything full circle.

According to Reed, compost is one of the best ways we can combat environmental destruction. "Composting keeps materials out of landfills; It returns nutrients to farms; it reduces the production of landfill gases, which are very potent greenhouse gases; it attracts and retains water like rainwater." Many farmers that buy the compost from Recology use it to grow cover crops that pull carbon out of the air and put it back in the soil.

Even if your city doesn't collect compost, you can still do it on your own and add it to a backyard or rooftop garden. Composting is the easiest thing you can do on an individual level to protect our earth and slow the effects of climate change.

-- Molly Fosco