[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: We reported that San Francisco's new city law requiring residents to compost food waste is the first program of its kind in the nation. Seattle was actually the first city to require all households to compost food waste. The Seattle law went into effect last April, but Seattle exempts businesses, restaurants and apartment buildings from the law. San Francisco is the first to mandate that all residents, plus businesses, restaurants and multidwelling units like apartment houses compost waste.]
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Starting today in San Francisco, it is illegal to toss food scraps in your garbage can. Those scraps now have to go in a special food recycling bin.
This is the first program of its kind in the nation, and so far, it's a mandate San Franciscans seem to appreciate. David Gorn reports.
DAVID GORN: Everyone who has ever lived in an apartment knows about this place. Deep in the basement, smelly and dark, the place where the garbage goes. In your apartment, you open the door to your garbage chute�
(Soundbite of chute opening)
GORN: �and the garbage bag tumbles down past many floors until it splats into the pile in the basement.
(Soundbite of crashing)
GORN: This is the garbage of the Cathedral Hill Plaza apartments in San Francisco. But there's a big difference about this basement room.
Ms. LINDA CORSO (Apartment Manager, Cathedral Hill Plaza Apartments): It doesn't smell so bad. Our trash room doesn't stink like it used to.
GORN: That's because none of the wet garbage, the food waste, goes down here anymore, says Linda Corso, the apartment manager. Instead, food scraps go into sealed compost bins that get picked up by the city. The program, Corso says, has trimmed the building's garbage costs significantly.
Ms. CORSO: We used to have two bins picked up every day. And now we have one bin picked up every day. So, we've cut that in half.
(Soundbite of garbage truck)
GORN: In getting ready for implementation of the law, residents throughout the city have received their food recycling bins, and they've already put them to use. So much so that garbage officials here have been stunned and heartened by the tons and tons of food waste that's already streaming in.
(Soundbite of garbage truck)
Mr. JARED BLUMENFELD (Environmental Officer, San Francisco): We're in San Francisco at the Organic Annex. This is where the trucks that pick up the food scraps from your curbside travel to the south of the city. This is the heart of the operation.
GORN: Jared Blumenfeld is the city's environmental officer. He says the Organics Annex is already processing about half of all of the city's food waste - more than 500 tons of it a day.
(Soundbite of truck)
Mr. BLUMENFELD: You see it dumping right now all the food, a lot of lettuce, tomatoes, old apples, rotten cabbages. You kind of get a vivid picture of what's being thrown away.
GORN: San Francisco turns all of that food refuse into compost, which is then sold to Bay Area farms and vineyards. This is the latest effort in one of the most aggressive recycling campaigns in the nation. San Francisco currently keeps 72 percent of its garbage stream out of the landfill by recycling cans, bottles, construction material, cooking oil. Blumenfeld says, even though the program officially launches today, he's not surprised by how many people are already fully participating.
Mr. BLUMENFELD: We hear a lot about climate change, and what we can do and should do, and stuff that's happening in Congress. But people want to know what they can practically do every single day, and composting your food scraps is probably the single most effective thing that you can do as a citizen in the United States today.
GORN: Here's the thing, Blumenfeld says: separating out the food scraps is really just diverting the smelly stuff to a different place. It doesn't cost much, he says - it's really a simple logistical thing.
Mr. BLUMENFELD: This is not rocket science. This is putting some food scraps into a different pile and then turning it into compost. If we can't do that, then I really worry about our ability to do some of those more complex things.
GORN: The city can fine people for noncompliance, but officials say they're unlikely to use that power except in extreme cases. And the city's ultimate and pretty lofty goal � according to Blumenfeld � is to get to zero waste, meaning no garbage at all going into landfill, by the year 2020.
For NPR News, I'm David Gorn.
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