San Francisco struggling to meet zero waste goal as 2020 quickly approaches

Dive Brief:

  • San Francisco is looking for new ways to increase diversion rates with the goal of "zero waste by 2020" fast approaching, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.
  • According to Recology, the city's hauler, San Francisco generated an average 1,463 tons of waste per workday over the past year. Officials estimate that about 50% of this material could be recycled or composted if separated properly.
  • A $12 million upgrade at Recology's recycling facility is expected to be done in November. This will accommodate more material types and potentially help boost diversion rates. 

Dive Insight:

Since the city set its zero waste goal in 2003, it's been seen as the gold standard by many environmental advocates. A plastic bag ban in 2007, composting mandate in 2009 and recent polystyrene foam ban have further burnished San Francisco's image as one of the "greenest" cities in the world. Diversion rates are reportedly more than 80% though some have questioned how these numbers are calculated.

The city's Department of the Environment has said that increased participation could help raise that number to 90%, but it has also recognized that 100% won't be achievable without some form of extended producer responsibility (EPR) system in place. A recent internal memo from the California Department of Resources Recycling Recovery indicated possible support for such a system among staff. California is aiming for a statewide diversion rate of 75% by 2020, though that number has recently dipped below 50%.

The definition of zero waste differs from city to city, though at this point many of the major ones in the U.S. have set goals to achieve that at some point in the near future. Many European countries have reached their own version of the goal through the use of waste-to-energy and some cities, such as New York, have started shifting toward combustion over landfills. Until a solution can be found for the portion of the waste stream which can't be processed in traditional material recovery facilities, it may be hard to truly reach "zero waste."

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Filed Under: Collections & Transfer Recycling Waste Diversion