An organic opportunity

Departments - Editor’s Letter

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October 7, 2020

Landfilling waste is most often the economic solution for dealing with refuse, but thanks to diminishing capacities, permitting obstacles and increasing environmental legislation, the way waste has traditionally been handled is being rethought in some parts of the country.

Among the trends aimed at reducing the volume of materials headed to the landfill is organics collection. While a number of communities offer some type of organics collection program, it’s the city that pioneered collection on a large scale that recently got its version of a Hollywood close-up.

Kiss the Ground, which debuted on Netflix on Sept. 22, focuses on how more conscientious farming practices based on healthier soils can lead to atmospheric carbon sequestration that could reverse the effects of climate change. In the film, San Francisco’s universal organics recycling mandate is highlighted as a way to promote these healthier farms.

Recology, which is the waste management company in charge of collecting and composting these materials throughout San Francisco, manages 700 tons of food scraps and plant cuttings a day. While waste is often looked at as something to be discarded, Recology PR Manager Robert Reed discusses the value the compost has for the area’s producers. “This is the most important garbage there is because this is where the nutrients are, and this is where the carbon is [that farms need].”

Reed says that the citizens of San Francisco, who have been required to participate in the program since a mandate was put into effect in 2009, have embraced the feel-good benefits of repurposing their waste to help protect the environment and grow some of the crops they buy at their local farmers markets. And although many are no doubt participating because it is the right thing to do, the enforcement element helps ensure the program’s success.

“We incentive people to actually keep things out of the black [waste] bins. When you have nothing in the black bin, we don’t charge you,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who served as mayor of San Francisco from 2004 to 2011 during the program’s implementation, says in the documentary. “When you have a ton of stuff in the black bin, we charge you a lot. So, your goal is to get [your waste] in the green [organics] and blue [recycling] bins.”

Newsom notes that the program has been a success not just from an environmental vantage point, but from an economical one as well.

“San Francisco became the most sustainable big city in the United States in just a few short years, and we grew our economy,” he says. “I think if San Francisco can prove an ideal, then that success can be replicated in other cities in other states and in countries around the world.”

California’s progressive leanings of course make it an obvious place for sustainable waste management practices to blossom, but as the program’s success shows, where there is political will, there’s a way.

Check out “Recology’s composting crusade” to learn more about the program.