Cities: Take note of San Francisco’s waste reduction program

San Francisco recently achieved a 77 percent landfill diversion rate, meaning that of the material it collects for disposal, only 23 percent was sent to the landfill. This rate is a national record and is extremely impressive compared to the national average of 32.1 percent; or, for instance, Ohio’s diversion rate of about 40 percent (though its next goal is 50 percent) or Utah’s diversion rate of 19 percent (though its goal for 2015 is also 50 percent).

There are a lot of factors that make San Francisco’s program so successful — first of all, it brands itself not as a waste management service, but as an overall environmental program that works to promote waste reduction, reuse, recycling, energy efficiency, and countless others. “Waste management” really does connote that they only deal with waste, so changing the name and the brand changes how residents participate — they aren’t just working to “manage” their waste, but to reduce it.

It also makes information extremely accessible — for instance, the front page of the program’s website has an “ecofindeRRR” tool that looks … amazing. Constantly people are confused about where they can properly recycle/dispose of specific items — e.g. cell phones, Christmas trees, medicine, etc. This website has a fantastic search tool that lets you choose the main category, the sub category, and then your zip code, and BOOM — an address where you can take that item.

This tool is just an example of how important access to information is — people need to easily be able to navigate and find when recycling is taken, where it can be taken, what can and can’t be recycled, what is or is not hazardous waste, and where to dispose of things that aren’t the typical aluminum/glass/plastic. San Francisco anticipates these questions and provides the answers in an easy-to-find, easy-to-read way.

Recycling and composting are also mandated by the city, but the bins are clearly branded both for residents (blue = recycling; green = composting; black = trash) and at events (where recycling/composting is mandated) around the city so that people are consistently getting the same message and its being reinforced. It’s important to note composting in the landfill diversion, as lots of organic, biodegradable food scraps get tossed into the garbage and then into landfills, where they actually won’t fully decompose.

The fact that San Francisco could divert 77 percent of the stuff it collects for disposal away from the landfill is great not only for that city specifically but also for the rest of the country. It proves that waste reduction is very possible, and people just need the proper resources, education, and policy in order to make it a reality.


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