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San Francisco Captures Organic Waste

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Because California’s waste stream from businesses contains nearly 30 percent organic material, food and green waste are the next frontiers in recycling.

San Francisco is one of several local agencies that have launched a green waste and food waste recycling program.

SF Environment (www.sfenvironment.org), the San Francisco city-county department that oversees recycling in the area, has one of the most ambitious waste reduction goals in the nation — 75 percent diversion by 2010. San Francisco’s diversion rate currently stands at 69 percent, and diverting food waste is a key strategy in reaching its goal.

San Francisco is diverting ever-larger amounts of organic material by collecting compostable food scraps from residents and 2,000 participating businesses, most of which are restaurants. Collectively these waste generators send more than 300 tons of organic material daily to Norcal’s Jepson-Prairie composting facility near Vacaville, which in turn converts the organic waste into rich soil for use in area farms.

San Francisco’s program is neither mandatory nor ordinance-based. Instead, two years ago San Francisco abandoned its long-standing program of free recycling bins for non-organic materials and converted to a paid system offering up to a 75 percent reduction on waste disposal bills corresponding with the amount of material placed in recycling bins. The new pricing structure has resulted in far more recycling, especially of food waste. The city’s biggest recycling gains in the year ending April 2007 came from the commercial sector and compostable food scraps and yard trimmings collected in separate green waste containers.

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