In this case study, we outline the various factors that helped San Francisco achieve these rates, and also give an overall summary of how San Francisco manages their waste.
Summary – San Francisco Waste Management Case Study
What Are San Francisco’s Recycling & Composting Rates?
80% of San Francisco’s waste is currently diverted from landfill, and goes to recycling and composting.
Comparing San Francisco Diversion Rates To Other Cities In The US
How San Francisco Achieved Their Recycling & Composting Rates
Some of the things that might have contributed to San Francisco’s higher than average recycling and composting rates, and landfill waste diversion, were:
New recycling/composting legislation
Banning of certain types of non recyclable waste, or added charges for these types of waste
Incentivizing recycling & making it easier, compared to general waste and sending waste to landfill
Charges, discounts and penalties for businesses based on waste generation & sorting
Partner with one waste management company instead of several, in order to streamline and make waste management more efficient
Scale up and invest in recycling and composting operations, facilities and infrastructure
Fund the waste management system primarily through waste collection fees
Provide employment opportunities through the recycling system
The cnbc.com resource at the bottom of this guide has a full breakdown on the San Francisco waste management system
Other Potential Ways To Increase Recycling & Composting Rates
There may be some other potential ways San Francisco may further increase recycling and composting rates, and some of those ways are listed below in this guide.
Onto some of the ways San Francisco has achieved their recycling and composting rates …
1. New Recycling/Composting Legislation
Legislation to make certain types of recycling and composting mandatory for businesses and residents, and for waste to be recycled or composted in certain ways
2. Banning Of Certain Types Of Non Recyclable Waste, Or Added Charges For These Types Of Waste
Banning non essential single use plastic bags at supermarkets
And, charges on a single use paper bag (and items that are wasted at higher rates, that may get dumped at landfills at higher rates)
3. Incentivising Recycling & Making It Easier, Compared To General Waste & Sending Waste To Landfill
San Francisco initially set trash collection rates much higher than recycling and composting rates, however, they adjusted these rates down to make them more comparable
Instead, they changed their standard residential bins to include:
– A 64-gallon blue recycling bin
– A 32-gallon green composting bin
– And, a 16-gallon black trash bin
The aim was to make recycling and composting easier
4. Charges, Discounts & Penalties For Businesses Based On Waste Generation & Sorting
Businesses are charged according to the volume of waste they generate
Businesses also receive discounts for using the green and blue bins, and are penalized if recyclables or compostables end up in the trash
5. Partner With One Waste Management Company Instead Of Several, In Order To Streamline & Make Waste Management More Efficient
San Francisco has an exclusive partnership with waste management company Recology.
Working with one company eases the administrative burden and makes it possible to collaborate on long-term goals
New York, by comparison, has a private system for commercial waste, comprised of hundreds of competing waste collection companies.
This makes it challenging for the local government to collaborate on citywide initiatives.
6. Scale Up & Invest In Recycling & Composting Operations, Facilities & Infrastructure
San Francisco has an advanced recycling center, and also has secondary uses for compost products:
– All of the city’s recyclables are brought to Recycle Center, a 200,000 square foot warehouse … that processes 40 to 45 tons of materials per hour … 14 people work alongside high-tech screens, magnets and optical sorters to weed out contamination and separate the paper, metals and plastics … similar materials are able to be sorted quickly and shipped domestically or abroad
– In terms of compost – all of the city’s yard waste and food scraps are brought to Jepson Prairie Organics … compostables are weighed, ground up and blended. Eventually, the nutrient-rich product is sold as fertilizer to vineyards in wine country and nut growers in the Central Valley
It’s worth noting that San Francisco also share their waste management information with others – Recycle Central and Jepson Prairie host national and international visitors to teach them about the keys to San Francisco’s success
7. Fund The Waste Management System Primarily Through Waste Collection Fees
San Francisco’s waste management system costs about $300 million annually
The program is funded solely through waste collection fees, which are no higher than average for the Bay Area
It would be interesting though to compare these waste collection fees to fees in other areas, and, it would also be interesting to consider the opportunity cost of paying these collection fees vs collection fees for other waste management types.
8. Provide Employment Opportunities Through The Recycling System
[In some cases,] for each ton of material, 20 more jobs are created for recycling compared to if that material is put in a landfill
How Might Recycling & Composting Rates Be Increased Further?
Some potential ways may include but aren’t limited to:
– Considering How More Of The Waste Going To Landfill Could Be Diverted
[It’s estimated] that 60 percent of what ends up in San Francisco’s trash bins could be composted or recycled
– More Awareness & Education For Citizens & Businesses On How Rates Can Be Increased
It’s possible more awareness and education for citizens on recycling, composting and landfill diversion could help
For example, addition education could be provided on the easier and best ways to sort waste into the different waste bins provided.
– Change In Product Design At The Producer Stage
Packaging and products themselves might be designed or manufactured differently so that they are more effectively or more easily recycled or composted.
Potential Tradeoffs For Different Waste Management Strategies
There are tradeoffs to any type of waste management system, as there would be for San Francisco’s current system.
As a few examples:
– A potential tradeoff to legislating certain types of waste practices, or penalizing businesses for the type of waste they generate, is that this might restrict or interfere with businesses activity, and also the types of products or services
– A potential tradeoff to partnering with one waste management company is that this may decrease competition in the waste management market, and this might have a range of flow on effects (particularly on a free market)
Each city would ideally assess their own situation to determine what waste management system is best for them in the short term and long term.