Last week, a proposal by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom passed and created a mandatory composting law that is believed to be the strictest such ordinance in the nation.
The law’s goal stands to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and have the city sending nothing to landfills or incinerators by 2020.
Residents will be required to have three color-coded trash bins, including one for recycling, one for trash and a new one for compost – everything from banana peels to coffee grounds.
Food scraps sent to landfills decompose fast and turn into methane gas, a potent greenhouse gas. With the new composting law, collected scraps will be turned into compost that helps area farms and vineyards prosper.
According to the city’s press release, a comprehensive study conducted by the Department of the Environment found that 36 percent of what San Francisco sends to landfills is compostable – primarily food scraps – and 31 percent is recyclable, which is mostly paper.
Those who do not properly separate their garbage, including composting food scraps, will be fined $100.
Mark Westlund, Spokesperson for the Environmental Department of San Francisco, said he doesn’t want the fines to be the main crux of this law.
“We’re going to use multiple warnings at first,” stated Westlund. “And many will be mostly an educational warning. We don’t want to fine people and the fines can’t exceed $100.”
The foundation of the new law is part of the city’s overall plan to eliminate landfill waste.
“Two-thirds of all waste is going straight to landfills right now. We want to reduce that drastically,” Westlund said.
Also, Westlund indicated he wants to see the city hit its overall recycling goals.
“We want to be recycling at a full 75 percent and right now we’re at 72 percent. We may not be able to get those extra few points without mandatory laws,” Westlund said.
According to the cities press release, Newsom echoed Westlund’s desire to raise recycling standards stating that, “if all of the recyclable and compostable materials currently going to landfills were captured by our programs, San Francisco’s recycling rate would soar from 70 percent to 90 percent.”
Westlund sees this environmentally friendly trend growing throughout California as well.
“Composting is a new aspect of the overall recycling effort,” stated Westlund. “I think as compost and food scrap programs continue to grow this will be a more attractive option for cities and counties legislatively.”
Additionally, the California Integrated Waste Management Board seemed to be in favor of the environmental leadership San Francisco is taking.
“San Francisco is going above and beyond what we require and that’s great,” stated Charlene Graham, Public Information Officer with the California Integrated Waste Management Board.
Graham also stated that composting is not currently a required activity but something that down the road might be considered by the Waste Management Board.
“Composting is going to the next level,” state Graham.
Furthermore, Graham said the state’s trash is currently 75 percent carbon based and the desire is to get rid of that carbon based material. Composting is a great way to do that.
However, not everyone praised the new law.
Sean Elsbrend, San Francsico County District 7 Supervisor, voted against the mandatory compost law as being more than what is necessary and something that will aggravate homeowners who already do a lot to be environmentally friendly.
Calls to Elsbrend and Supervisor Carmen Chu, both who cast opposing votes to the new law, were not immediately returned.
Other environmental legislation taking place includes the banning of plastic checkout bags at grocery and drug stores, banning Styrofoam food service wear, legislation that bans fluorescent lights from businesses and the currently proposed cigarette tax butt tax.
Andrew Carico can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org