San Francisco’s Goal to Become Our First Zero-Waste City

Washington (GGM) Analysis | February 28, 2022 by Noreen WiseFounder & CEO of Gallant Gold Mediaand authorImage Credit: AdobeStock

In 2002, San Francisco set its sights on becoming the first waste-free city in the United States. Since then, the Golden City has proven itself to be a national waste management role model. Phase 1 of the city’s masterplan was to divert 75% of its waste by 2010, which it artfully achieved two years early. The speed of San Francisco’s success was likely tied to California’s Integrated Waste Management Act of 1989 which mandated that each local jurisdiction in California divert 50% of its waste materials. California fined cities $10,000 per day if they fell below 50% which led to strong compliance. 

Once 75% was reached, San Francisco soon had its eye set on 100% diversion, a true circular economy. The city’s rapid positive results were achieved through a series of strong legislative measures:

Three-stream Collection Program

The three-stream collection program (green bin for kitchen and yard scraps, blue bin for recyclables, and black bin for everything else which should be very little) is mainstream in most communities in Canada as well as many EU countries. If it’s not mainstream where you live, it means we have to work that much harder as individuals to create a three-stream program in our homes since composting is required if we are to stay below 1.5ºC and cut CO2e emissions 50% by 2030. 

San Francisco began its journey to become waste free in 2002, 20 years ago. Despite their early start, they still rushed. We have to hurry that much faster since most US communities are very far behind. 

For example, Fairfax County, Virginia, has no plan to mandate composting anytime soon, 2024 or 2025 at the earliest. But there are thousands of residents who are very green and want curbside compost pickup. Most of the schools in Fairfax County compost. The county set-up drop-off locations that are full to capacity at the end of each week, which shows how dedicated so many county residents are to green bins. Legislation would speed things up. Since those of us in Fairfax County know the county plans to wait years, and San Francisco has proven that the only thing that works is legislation that mandates composting with very steep fines, we’ll have to lobby to get the board of supervisors to move more quickly. In the meantime, we’ll have to signup for compost collection on our own.

Compost collection services are popping up in most metro areas across the country. If our towns and cities don’t have drop-off locations, and we don’t have a yard to create our own outdoor bins, we can easily signup for compost collection. Composting is an absolute necessity in saving the human species. Not only does composting cut methane, compost added to our soil boosts carbon drawdown. Putting a banana peel in a paper bag and dropping it at a compost drop-off location is not difficult. Composting is very low hanging fruit.

Methane

One third of all the food produced becomes waste, much of which in dumped into landfills. As mentioned, this rich organic material turns into methane. Landfills emit 2 billion tons of methane each year. Methane is 80 times stronger than carbon dioxide. Cutting methane from landfills is the quickest and easiest greenhouse gas to eliminate. If you’re not already composting, you can begin today. Just place all kitchen scraps in a brown paper bag and drop-off at town site each weekend. The bags can be stored in the refrigerator until you’re ready to drop-off.

Plastic Packaging

Most community waste comes from unrecyclable plastic. The vast majority of plastic is manufactured from petroleum and is toxic. The global plastic crisis that has killed millions of ocean species, and according to Sir David Attenboroughis responsible for up to one million early deaths per year, generates mountains of microplastics that are now in our food supply (we eat 100 bits of microplastics per meal, which amounts to one credit card a week, 52 credit cards per year). Recent news about nanoplastics found in the air that we breath, especially those who live and work in our cities, is that much more alarming and should motivate us to refuse plastic. Green sustainability companies have spent years inventing plastic-free alternatives for nearly every plastic-packaged product. Bar shampoo is a great example, laundry detergent sheets is another. 

Reduce-Reuse-Refuse-Upcycle

We have to be strong and refuse to buy products if there are no non-plastic alternative. Initially, this wasn’t easy for me. But, I soon found that it becomes easier with practice. Three years ago I took my first step at refusing when I refused to buy ketchup because I couldn’t find an alternative brand packaged in glass. Heinz sells ketchup in glass bottles in Canada, but not the US. So, I switched to barbecue sauce, and haven’t looked back. I also refuse to buy organic margarine because it’s only packaged in plastic. Just this past weekend, I added refusing to buy my absolute favorite salad dressing when the manufacturer switched from a glass bottle to plastic. I had to find a new favorite brand.

Reusable containers or bags instead of single-use plastic is another way to reduce waste. Upcycling is fun and creative and is an excellent way to reduce waste as well. Children love upcycling projects where they can create something new from old scraps, especially gifts for family and friends. The goal is to create a circular economy where nothing is ever thrown away.

Pay-as-you-throw

Many communities in multiple states are beginning to charge households for the amount of black bin trash they have each month. Blue recycle bins are free. But black bin is pay by quantity. “Pay-as-you-thow” (PAYT) is the common nickname cities give their black bin programs, although it’s typically a purple bag that can be purchased in stores, either a 15 gallon size or 30 gallon. Across the country, cities are finding that once households have to pay for the quantity of landfill trash they have, they drastically cut the amount without any hesitation.

Coalitions

San Francisco is a member of various zero waste and climate action coalitions whose members share ideas and brainstorm solutions:

Being part of a coalition of like-mined, green-action individuals and/or organizations is a very effective way to build momentum within a community to transition to a green lifestyle. Churches are often an effective driver of climate action, especially when they connect with the other faiths in town and form a united force.

The vast majority of initiatives that drove quick change in San Francisco were mandatory with painful consequences for anyone who failed to comply. Voting for climate candidates who truly believe that the best time to act on climate was yesterday will be what makes the difference in getting legislation passed. 

Today, the IPCC held a press conference when it released its 2022 findings on the climate crisis. The UN Secretary General, António Guterres spoke first, and very passionately stressed the urgency of action. “Now is the time to turn rage into action. Every fraction of a degree matters. Every voice can make a difference. And every second counts.”

All of us who care must be the voices in our communities that drive our leaders to act immediately and pass the much needed green legislation. If San Francisco can do it, we can all do it.

© Copyright 2022. ALL Rights Reserved.

How Does Compost Collection Work? | Compost Crew

Washington (GGM) Analysis | January 14, 2022, by Noreen Wise, Founder & CEO of Gallant Gold Media, and author; image credit, Compost Crew

Composting home kitchen scraps is essential. It’s one of the most critical climate actions we can take as we rush to keep global warming below 1.5ºC and avoid the much feared tipping point (that threatens to trigger runaway warming). In fact, composting is so vital to our survival as a human species, that if you’re not already composting, it’s imperative that you begin today. 

In John Doerr’s new book Speed & Scale, An Action Plan for Solving Our Climate Crisis Now, he explains that food waste is roughly 33% of all the food that’s produced, and is responsible for 2 billion tons (GtC) of CO2e each year, most of which is in the form of methane emitted from landfills. “Every pound of wasted food is a pound of wasted water and energy,” he asserts. In order to reach net-zero, Doerr outlined that we must decrease food waste from the current 33% of food produced to 10%.

In order to achieve this goal, composting should be mandatory in every state. But there’s more. Compost significantly increases soli health in the following ways:

  • boosts carbon drawdown substantially
  • increases soil water infiltration rate
  • keeps soil moist during high heat especially when dense biodiverse plants are grown on the surface to keep the soil protected
  • adds vital nutrients and microbes to the soil which increases the nutrient density of vegetables and fruits

“Compost is like a sponge that helps soil retail moisture.” 

Kiss the Ground, Netflix

Click here to learn more about what food scraps can and can’t be composted. 

There are 3 options for what to do with your compost each week once it’s collected:

1. Create your our own compost pile. Depending on what size yard you have, and how much time and patience you have are at your disposal, you may decide to set-up your own compost pile, or purchase and manage a compost bin. Bins are sold at Lowe’s, Home Depot, Amazon, and most big box stores. YouTube has a large number of “How To” videos that will guide you. Warning, there’s a bit of science and math involved. You’ll have to keep track of green and brown ratio, etc. And compost piles often attract wildlife that will have to be managed.

2. Compost Drop off. Most communities now have at least one compost drop-off location. Drop-off works well for a household of one, possibly two people, but families will likely prefer signing up for compost collection service.

3. Compost collection service. The Compost Crew provides weekly curbside pick-up throughout metro Washington DC. They are a great example of the evolution of the composting industry and a model for how the industry has taken off as millions of us rush to change our daily habits to minimize our impact on the environment and become more sustainable. Hopefully, laws will be passed soon requiring composting in all communities.

Below are the questions I asked Compost Crew’s Dan Israel, Senior VP, Sales & Marketing, in order to provide the public with insights into the how a composting collection service operates.

When did you start Compost Crew? Compost Crew was started in 2011.  Last year, we celebrated our 10 year anniversary and received proclamations from both the State of Maryland and Montgomery County.

In a few sentences can you explain how you got off the ground.  (How did you find funding?) The company was originally self-funded.  In 2018, Ben Parry purchased Compost Crew and became our CEO.  Last year, we raised additional funds for further expansion from several investors including Exelon’s Climate Change Investment Initiative (2c2i).

Who were your first customers? Compost Crew originally started by servicing homes in Montgomery County.  Over the years we have expanded geographically into the District of Columbia, Baltimore, Northern Virginia and much of the surrounding area.  We have also expanded to serve commercial customers like grocery stores, restaurants, hospitals, senior living communities and property management firms.

How did the growth happen? We’re now in our 11th year.  There’s so much opportunity in front of us – the region produces 700,000 tons of food waste each year, and only a fraction of that is composted.  So, we expect to be able to keep growing.

Two states and DC are a unique arrangement. Different laws, different climate action plans, different levels of urgency. Which communities and which state have/has best existing legislation that supports composting?Maryland passed a law last year that will require large waste generators to compost their food waste, starting in 2023.  Ben (our CEO) spoke in front of both the House of Delegates and the Senate in support of this legislation.  Outside our region, California’s new composting bill requires all businesses and residents to compost their food waste – we want to work with DC, Maryland and Virginia to make that a reality in our region.

Do you plan to grow down to Fredericksburg and out to Gainesville or is your goal to have more customers sign up in your established area? We see plenty of opportunity to grow within our existing service area.  Many homes and businesses still throw their food waste in the trash, which is a missed opportunity to recycle these materials into nutrient-rich compost.  Having said that, we’re open to expanding into other communities, particularly in partnership with local governments.

Have you ever tried to win over Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill as a customer? While we generally don’t discuss the work we may do for specific customers, we have seen significant growth in the number of area office buildings and other businesses using our composting services over the past year.  And we’re always happy to speak to anyone about the benefits of composting at their workplace.

How much does the service cost? Our standard residential rate is $32 per month for weekly curbside collection.  Many neighborhoods have lower rates, based on large numbers of homes who have signed up for our service as a community.  Our rates for businesses depend on the amount of food waste and the frequency of collection.

What did I forget to ask, or what additional information would you like readers to know? Compost Crew has begun building distributed composting facilities in the region, including our first one at One Acre Farm.  We call them our Compost Outposts.  We’re aiming to put more of these Compost Outposts around the region, in partnership with farms, schools and local municipalities, to process the food scraps closer to where they are generated.  That will reduce the amount of resources spent hauling the food scraps and will make our communities more resilient.  

Twice a year, spring and fall, Compost Crew delivers a bag of finished compost to your doorstep to use in your yard, or for your house plants. You may decide to share with neighbors and encourage them to compost as well. Our future will become much brighter when everyone is composting.

Treehugger named Compost Crew the “Best Composting Service in DC, 2020.” Congratulations, Compost Crew! Keep up the great work.

© Copyright 2018 – 2022. ALL Rights Reserved.


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