I have done some pretty gross things in the name of Zero Waste; I have climbed through dumpsters, plunged my hands into week-old leftovers, and sorted waste from dormitories of UC Davis all as an effort to improve my university’s waste management. Over time, I found myself talking about trash with an ease that soon disturbed my friends and family. However, it is this fanaticism about waste that has thrust San Francisco into the limelight as the greenest city in North America.
The mayor of San Francisco recently announced that the city has achieved an 80% diversion rate, sending 440,000 tons of waste to the landfill in 2012, a number less than half the amount sent to the landfills only 12 years earlier. San Francisco has led the country with legislation including laws requiring compostable or recyclable food service ware, a ban on plastic bags, and the most recent, Mandatory Recycling and Composting Ordinance requiring all people in San Francisco to separate their recyclables and compostables from their landfill waste stream. This ordinance is the first of its kind in the United States.
Many cities are following in San Francisco’s wake, implementing their own recycling programs and even attempting to introduce composting to their citizens. Vancouver, New York, Seattle, and Denver follow closely behind San Francisco as North America’s greenest cities according to Siemen’s Green City Index, a study comparing 27 major metropolitan areas in North America and ranking them based on nine categories.
While recycling is a major component leading to San Francisco’s success as the greenest city in North America, composting is the key component that has taken diversion from 50% to the impressive 80% that San Francisco has recently achieved. In addition to introducing wide-scale composting, San Francisco has implemented an intensive, multi-lingual education campaign to spread the word about composting and recycling. Additionally, San Francisco has made recycling of unusual items, such as couches, and large electronics, extremely easy through websites that inform citizens the closest locations to recycle their items.
While recycling was becoming more common-place when I was growing up and I remember learning about it in school, composting was never part of our curriculum, and even now many cities and municipalities are a long way from implementing wide-scale composting. However, The Watershed Project wants to be play a part in continuing this effort, and we have recently received an environmental justice grant from the EPA. The EPA grants supports our new Waste Matters program that we will be piloting at Fairmont Elementary in El Cerrito.
Waste Matters seeks to transform Fairmont Elementary into a zero-waste school by training students in the 4Rs and engaging them in their daily practice. The project features training in source reduction, trash separation, recycling, composting, and implementation of an ongoing, sustainable program of these practices. As part of the program, students will take these practices home to their families and initiate zero-waste there.
Several years ago the idea of a waste-free city was laughable; however, with San Francisco narrowing the gap with 80% diversion, and if our Waste Matters program can be replicated in other schools around the Bay, we will continue to move closer toward a waste-free life.