San Francisco Compost a Hit with Local Vineyards Trash might be the secret to making San Francisco vineyards thrive. Each day, recycling trucks around the city collect tons of kitchen scraps from hotels and restaurants. The material is turned into nutrient-rich soil additive that is in high demand at area vineyards.
NPR logo

San Francisco Compost a Hit with Local Vineyards

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
San Francisco Compost a Hit with Local Vineyards

San Francisco Compost a Hit with Local Vineyards

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

We're going to spend the next few minutes wallowing in revelling.

I'm Alex Chadwick.


And I'm Madeleine Brand.

Coming up, we meet a guy who tastes caviar for a living. First, how the wine that goes with that caviar is made. In the San Francisco Bay Area, vintners are using restaurant waste to feed their grapevines.

Nancy Mullane reports.

NANCY MULLANE: It's just about lunchtime at the Slanted Door restaurant in San Francisco. Back in the kitchen, the staff moves with the precision of a highly disciplined dance corps, slicing and chopping and gently folding spring rolls into mouth-watering bites.

And as they work, everyone from the chefs to the dishwashers drops the kitchen scraps into one of many large, green composting bins set every few feet. Walking through the organized chaos, executive chef Charles Phan checks each green bin.

Mr. CHARLES PHAN (Executive Chef, Slanted Door Restaurant): One of the breakthroughs about this thing is not just vegetable, but you can put bones, you can put paper. So you'll be able to get a lot more out of the total volume of garbage you generate here.

MULLANE: Phan collects the latest scraps into one of the large green bins, puts it on a handcart and heads down to the central garbage and recycling area outside the restaurant.

Mr. PHAN: And we're coming around to the compost side.

MULLANE: By separating the recycling and the kitchen scraps from the restaurants daily waste, Phan says he's been able to cut down the garbage he sends to the landfill by 80 percent.

Chef PHAN: So there you have it, composting.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MULLANE: Charles Phan isn't the only chef in the Bay Area making composting a kitchen priority. Since 1997, more than 2,000 restaurants have joined the program, and by doing so they get a discount on their garbage bill.

MULLANE: Now NorCal, a private company that handles San Francisco's garbage, picks up more than 300 tons of compostable material, kitchen trimmings and plate scrapings every day. The wet mass from all of the restaurants is transported by truck about an hour north to Jepson Prairie Organics in Dixon, one of the largest food-waste composting operations in the country.

Even before seeing the Jepson sign, the smell is overwhelming, ripe, rotten and pungent. The back of the from San Francisco is lifted high, the sloppy mass slides down to the ground. It's then put in a huge machine called a trommel that filters the scraps to pieces smaller than four inches in diameter.

Greg Pryor is general manager of Jepson. He says over the next 60 days they'll transform the slop into a deep, brown compost that nearby vineyards will pay top dollar for.

Mr. GREG PRYOR (General Manager, Jepson): The best thing I like about it is we do 110-120,000 tons annually. All this used to go into the landfill. Landfilling is a necessity and it's a requirement. This isn't really a requirement, but it's the right thing to do.

MULLANE: A truck carrying 30 cubic yards of fresh compost pulls up just after noon to the 10-acre Inman Family Vineyard in the Russian River Valley. It backs up and pours the special blend onto the ground. Bending down, Kathleen Inman picks up a handful.

Ms. KATHLEEN INMAN (Inman Family Vineyard): It's got that smell of the damp earth.

(Soundbite of crowd)

MULLANE: Back at the Slanted Door lunch is being served. In the temperature controlled wine drawer, a 2003 Inman Family Vineyard Pinot Noir waits to be served. Executive chef Charles Phan says they offer the Inman because it's good and…

Chef PHAN: We choose our wine to match our food, but knowing someone used our compost makes it feel a little sweeter, makes it, you know, we can brag about it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MULLANE: The San Francisco composting program is the largest of its kind in the country and they're working to such a large scale because they have a deadline. By the year 2010, the city has mandated 75 percent of its garbage must be recycled or composted.

For NPR News, I'm Nancy Mullane in San Francisco.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.