Processing Magazine

San Francisco achieves record high recycling rates

May 22, 2013
recycling
Increasing recycling rates has been on the agenda for U.S. cities for a long time now, with varying degrees of success.

Increasing recycling rates has been on the agenda for U.S. cities for a long time now, with varying degrees of success. The vast majority of cities have achieved rates that have remained stable over the past few years, averaging at about 30 percent.

In comparison, the city of San Francisco appears to have found the Holy Grail of recycling by managing to recycle a staggering 80 percent of waste that would have otherwise ended up in landfills. With this achievement the city has exceeded its own goal for a landfill diversion rate of 75 percent by 2020, Sustainable Business  reported.

Having achieved its goal well in advance, the city has now set a new target: zero waste by 2020. Melanie Nutter, San Francisco Department of Environment director, commented that the city's success was the result of innovative policies, financial incentives, education and outreach. All of these tools have equally contributed to engage the whole community to achieve the 80 percent diversion rate and this would not have been possible without the active participation of the people and the businesses of the city, she added.

One of the reasons why San Francisco's recycling rate is far better than other cities' is the fact that it accepts more materials for recycling due to its effective partnership with Recology, one of the most comprehensive collection, recycling, composting and disposal companies. In addition, the city council requires residents and business to compost and recycle, pushing up landfill diversion rates.

Composting goes a long way back in the city and it was required in San Francisco when many other cities were taking their first steps in basic recycling. This helped San Francisco meet its goal for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to levels 12% below those from 1990.

The city provides color-coded bins for different waste items: blue bins are for recycling, green bins are for food scraps and other organic matter and black bins are for non-recyclable waste. Moreover, the city has banned the use of non-compostable plastic bags to include the vast majority of retailers.

Average recycling rates across the United States need to pick up to make a real difference in energy efficiency and waste reduction. Recycling could also prove ?n important factor for economic growth. It is estimated that if all U.S. cities recycled and composted at the same rates as San Francisco more than 2.3 million jobs would be created.

In 2010 the United States recycled just over a third of its waste, or 85 million tons out of 250 million tons. This was a significant jump from the 10 percent recycling recorded in 1980, when there were no centralized recycling schemes in place. However, composting is currently at very low levels nationwide, with an average of three percent of food waste being composted. Overall, the amount of garbage that the United States produces is slowly declining, from 4.57 pounds per person daily in 1990 to 4.43 pounds at present.