In San Francisco, New Regs For Recycling

In an effort to reduce what goes into landfills, San Francisco has adopted strict new guidelines for trash and recycling. No more throwing coffee grounds and orange peels into the garbage.

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In most cities, you can get a ticket for jaywalking or running a stop sign. In San Francisco, people will soon face stiff fines for tossing a banana peel or some other food scrap into the trash.

Last night, the city passed the nation's toughest law regulating household garbage.

And as NPR's Richard Gonzales reports, it's all part of an effort to keep the city's landfills from filling up.

RICHARD GONZALES: Starting in the fall, it will be illegal to throw eggshells, coffee grounds, or orange peels into the trash. Those things and more, even a greasy pizza box, will have to be turned into compost to comply with San Francisco's tough new recycling law.

Most restaurants here have been doing it voluntarily for years. At the Slow Club in the city's Mission District, manager Sara Snyder(ph) points at a large, green bin.

SARA SNYDER: What goes in the compost? Good trash, paper towels, boxes, coffee, stir sticks, sugar paper packets. It's not hard. It's not a hassle.

GONZALES: The new law will require every residents and business to do the same. Each will have three separate waste bins: black for trash, blue for recycling, and green for compost. Jared Blumenfeld is the head of the city's Department of Environment.

JARED BLUMENFELD: So, the motivation for San Francisco is we have a goal of getting to 75 percent recycling rate by 2010 and to zero waste by 2020. And when we looked at what people are still sending to landfill, about two-thirds of it could either be recycled or composted.

GONZALES: People who fail to sort their waste properly will be subject to fines, but only after several written warnings, says Blumenfeld.

BLUMENFELD: So, if you own a single-family home in San Francisco, the fines are capped at $100, and it needs to be repeated and egregious. So, the first thing that will happen is that a garbage man or woman will hang a tag on your cart that says, did you know that your bottles and cans are meant to go into the recycling cart?

GONZALES: However, far heavier fines, up to $1,000, can be lodged against businesses and apartment building owners who fail to comply. But Blumenfeld says the city won't be in the business of snooping in people's garbage. And Robert Reed, a spokesman for the local waste collection agency, says garbage collectors won't become enforcers.

ROBERT REED: Our collectors are service providers. We're not garbage police.

GONZALES: However, it may take time for residents to get used to the new requirements. Out on the street, most people we talked with support the new law. Birch Schneider(ph) is a retired mechanic.

BIRCH SCHNEIDER: Well, I think there's enough waste as it is going into the garbage dumps. So, I think we need to clean up our act. Okay, so it's an inconvenience, so what? You know, we're destroying our world, and I don't think that's right. So, I think we've all got to do our part.

GONZALES: But resident Chris Reynolds(ph) asks what happens to throwaways that don't fit a definite category?

CHRIS REYNOLDS: You know, I don't know what to do with my dog food bag. You know, it's not really paper. I'm not sure if it's compostable and not recyclable. That's what they have to do. They have to tell us which one goes in which before they would fine us, you know? And it is a valid enforcement measure. But until they tell us what goes where, it's not fair.

GONZALES: But Keith Connigan(ph), a mailroom worker, says the government goes too far when it tells you how to separate your waste.

KEITH CONNIGAN: Who cares? It's not the government's responsibility to nitpick that deeply into individuals' lives.

GONZALES: But city officials say they are confident residents will adopt composting when they learn how easy it is to do.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.

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