Just yesterday On June 23rd, the City of San Francisco signed into effect the nation’s first law mandating that all residents and businesses separate their recycling and compost material from normal trash. While many other cities in the US require recycling, no other city requires separation of food scraps and foot material to be composted. The measure, which will take effect this fall, is intended to help increase landfill diversion rates to 75% by 2010 as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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San Francisco is already well known for it’s impressive recycling and participation rates. The city diverts 72% of it’s trash from the landfill, and if everyone in the city participated in the new mandate, the Department of the Environment expects they could reach a 90% diversion rate. Ultimately though, the city has a goal of zero waste by 2020. The Department of the Environment conducted a study and determined that 36% of what is sent to the landfill is compostable and 31% is recyclable, most of which is paper.

Every residence and business in the city will be expected to have 3 different color-coded bins to separate their trash: blue for recyclables, green for compostables, and black for the remaining trash. Residences and businesses that cannot comply with the mandate can write the city a note explaining why it is unfeasible.

The purpose behind the mandate was to encourage businesses and residents who currently don’t recycle to start participating. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom wants to “get recycling and composting happening in buildings where it is not currently provided.” And while there are fines associated with noncompliance of the recycling and composting ordinance, fines are not expected to be handed out except in extreme cases. The potential for fines is meant to increase awareness and add a sense of urgency to the matter, but they will only be implemented after repeated notices and phone calls. Additionally, a moratorium on fines is in effect until 2011.

The Board of Supervisors passed the measure, which is the first of it’s kind in the US, 9-2 on the first read through. “San Francisco has the best recycling and composting programs in the nation,” Newsom said, praising the board’s vote on a plan that some residents had decried as heavy-handed and impractical. “We can build on our success.”

+ City of San Francisco