San Francisco Celebrates Major Climate Success with 25 Years of Composting
City’s curbside composting program leads the nation, providing all San Franciscans with easy composting at home and furthering the City’s zero waste efforts
San Francisco, CA — Mayor London N. Breed today commemorated 25 years of organics recovery in what has been hailed as the most successful, comprehensive, and innovative composting program in the country. Since 1996, residents and businesses have recovered organic material, primarily food scraps, away from landfills and applied to local farmland, vineyards, and ranches. Today, the City collects more than 500 tons per day from the green bin.
“I’m so proud of our residents and businesses that continue to step up and redefine what it means to be a sustainable city,” said Mayor Breed. “For decades now, San Franciscans have steadily increased the food scraps they’ve collected in the green bin, helping us get closer to that Zero Waste City we aspire to be. This perseverance and dedication have showcased what’s possible to cities all around the world looking to emulate our practices.”
To commemorate this milestone, Mayor Breed and the Department of the Environment are asking residents to challenge themselves throughout the upcoming holiday season by using their green and blue bins more than their black bin. To support these efforts, the Department of the Environment launched an eight-week public awareness campaign offering residents a free compost pail for their home. Throughout the campaign, residents will be reminded with helpful tips and resources that encourage them to rethink old habits and move towards zero waste.
“As our City’s total emissions continue to drop thanks to decades of successful climate action, we’re still faced with the challenge of pulling the carbon that already exists out of the air,” said Debbie Raphael, Director of the Department of the Environment. “When you use the green bin, you’re converting food waste that would’ve otherwise gone to landfill, into rich, nutrient-dense compost that feeds our farms and simultaneously captures CO2 from the atmosphere. There’s no better time than now to improve our consumption behaviors and ultimately reduce waste.”
Composting is critical to California’s fight against climate change. When used on local agriculture, soils amended with compost are richer in nutrients, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers and have improved water retention. This not only helps plants thrive but also reduces the risk of wildfires. Additionally, compost improves the overall quality and health of the soil, benefitting microbes and plants that in turn sequester carbon from the air. In contrast, food scraps improperly disposed in the black bin can turn into material that release harmful methane gases into the atmosphere. Methane is more than 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere, so achieving significant reductions in methane emissions is critical for meeting our climate goals.
San Francisco’s food scrap collection program for composting, the first of its kind in the nation, began in 1996 as a community-led effort at The San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market, now called The SF Market. Shortly afterwards, the city’s largest hotel chains worked with the City to implement food scrap collection for composting. Building off of that success, a compost pilot program in the Richmond District was initiated, and in 2001, curbside collection of organic material to all properties became available on a voluntary basis. By 2009, San Francisco was the first City in the nation to mandate composting and recycling through the three-bin collection system residents, and businesses are familiar with today. As a direct result of San Francisco’s innovative policies and initiatives, the State legislature in 2016 passed Senate Bill 1383, which requires all jurisdictions to provide organic collection services to residents and businesses by 2022, among other policies to reduce methane emissions.
Today, food scraps and landscape debris properly collected in the green bin are transported to Recology’s Blossom Valley Organics, a state-of-the-art facility near Vernalis, California. There, contaminants like plastics are sorted from the organic material. The filtered material is then shredded, laid out in windrows, and carefully managed to balance moisture in the air. These steps encourage naturally-occurring microbes to break down the organic matter and destroy any harmful pathogens. After 60 days, the compost material is sold to local farmers to amend their soils. San Francisco’s curbside food scrap collection program has diverted more than 2.5 million tons of compostable material from landfill disposal.
"It’s on all of us to push further and redefine what it means to be an environmental City, which is why our staff have worked hard to ensure operations and best practices that are better for the planet,” said Vanick Der Bedrossian, co-owner of San Francisco’s La Méditerranée restaurant, one of the City’s certified Green Businesses due to their waste reduction efforts and lower carbon footprint. “We’re grateful to be a part of a community and City that shares these values, and welcome others to take the next step by joining the City’s Green Business Program.”
At the 2018 Global Climate Action Summit, Mayor Breed committed San Francisco to new zero waste goals and challenged other cities to take the same pledge. Specifically, the City pledged to reduce its municipal solid waste generation by 15% by 2030 and reduce disposal to landfill by 50% by 2030. Today, San Francisco recovers more material than perhaps any other city in the United States due in part to compulsory recycling and composting. However, continued bold action and new investments are critical to reaching the City's goals.
Residents wishing to learn more about the award-winning campaign and obtain a free compost pail can visit sfgasrelief.org. For more information on the Department of the Environment’s Green Business Program, please visit sfenvironment.org/green-businesses.