- San Francisco's Department of the Environment recently announced what it's calling the biggest change to city recycling since 2000, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle and other publications. Residents can now put an expanded list of materials in their blue recycling bins and all black refuse carts will be downsized to 16 gallons over the next two years.
- The list of newly accepted materials includes plastic bags, paper coffee cups, ice cream containers, milk or juice cartons, aseptic containers and textiles. The city asks residents to put plastic bags and textiles in a separate bag before placing them in their blue bins with other material.
- Recology, San Francisco's service provider, tested the new approach along routes in the city's Sunset District for multiple months. This is part of a shift to collecting routes with dual-compartment trucks for refuse and organic waste and using a full truck for recyclables.
San Francisco is often held up as the U.S. leader for recycling — with a reported diversion rate of more than 80% depending on calculation methods — and will be one of the first major cities to confront the realities of its "zero waste" goal when the target year of 2020 arrives. Working with Recology, the city has long offered curbside organics collection and worked to maximize its recycling efforts. Last year, Recology also completed an $11.6 million upgrade of its local material recovery facility to expand packaging capabilities. All of these services have come with the expected costs. Earlier this year, the city's Refuse Rate Board approved a 14% increase in monthly collection rates after no significant increases since 2013.
California has its own goal of hitting a 75% recycling rate by 2020, though the state's latest annual report showed a 44% rate for 2016. Both organic waste and packaging have been highlighted as priorities to help improve that situation. Los Angeles aims to make progress in these areas with a new commercial waste recycling system and other California municipalities, including some that have recently signed on with Recology, are also looking at ways to improve their diversion.
In a similar move to achieve its own "zero waste" goals, Washington, D.C. also announced an expansion of the list of accepted materials in residential recycling bins this week. That now includes items such as pizza boxes and plastic take-out containers, but no plastic bags. At a time when looming trade restrictions and contamination specifications from China are startling the industry it may seem surprising to further expand what residents can toss in their recycling bins. Yet with recent improvements to automated and optical sorting technology, and access to the appropriate end markets, some companies are becoming more confident in what they'll take. Though as noted by officials in San Francisco, waste reduction and education are also still seen as critical for any city to come close to "zero waste" status.