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California's Compost Law Could Spark New Trend

September 10, 2009 05:48 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
San Francisco residents who do not comply with a new compost law will face fines. The bill represents a burgeoning interest in food composting in homes, schools and even prisons in the U.S.

San Francisco Composting Plan Ups the Eco Ante

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In only six weeks, San Franciscans will be required to put their food scraps in green composting bins beside their bins for trash and recycling, or face warnings and potentially fines of up to $1,000. According to Heather Knight of the San Francisco Chronicle, the bits of egg shell, orange peel and the like will be transported to Vacaville for 90 days of processing, and then "sold to farms, vineyards and golf courses around the region."

San Francisco is the first city in the U.S. to require composting, "part of a larger plan to have San Franciscans sending nothing to landfills or incinerators by 2020," according to Knight. But many residents had already been composting; between five to 10 green bins were given out per day by the city's Department of the Environment in early summer.

Lately, interest has surged, and 130 bin requests per day is the new norm, while the "amount of composted material" from the city has risen 15 percent to 480 tons per day in recent months, Knight reported. Many restaurants in the city are also already "avid composters," partly because sanitation collectors have rewarded efforts with price breaks for the past 10 years.
"There's a real sense of urgency now," Jared Blumenfeld, director of the Environment Department, explained. The department sends expert composters to people's homes and businesses for tutorials. The legislation was initiated by Mayor Gavin Newsom, and passed by the Board of Supervisors in June.

But the bill has not been entirely well received, according to Peter Hecht in an article for The Sacramento Bee, and some residents are worried about a Big Brother-type experience. Interior designer David Baird told Hecht he thinks the fines are "a little excessive, especially considering that it will probably be levied on the landlords." Baird also expressed concern about the possibly messy prospect of "200 units all dumping into the same compost bin," and feels that enforcement and regulation of San Francisco's composting law have not been fully worked out yet.

Opinion & Analysis: Has San Francisco overstepped its boundaries?

In an ongoing survey by Newsvine, nearly 80 percent of respondents said the mandatory composting law goes too far. One commenter said, "The consumer should not be responsible for seperating trash/recycle/compost material, it should be done at the landfill/recycle center." Another countered, "It takes half a second to toss scraps in a seperate container. Recycling like this should be mandatory nationwide. Kudos to San Francisco!"

Related Topics: Prison compost plans; Uncomposted trash

At state prison facilities in Nashville, 2,300 inmates participate in a composting program, which is used to grow their 100-acre vegetable garden. "In addition to conserving natural resources, the composting avoids creating a virulent greenhouse gas: methane," Anne Paine reports for The Tennessean. The program, along with other composting and recycling projects at Tennessee prisons, results in more than $400,000 "in savings and revenue," Paine writes.

Also in Tennessee, Granbery Elementary School has had a food compost program for 15 years, led by Sherry Force, who told Paine she was "frustrated that few schools or businesses do the same in Tennessee." Force added that she follows the example set by Toronto, Canada, which "had to add more composting facilities to meet the demand there."

To learn where your trash ends up if not composted, follow the trail along with Josh Harkinson and Alexandra Bezdikian, reporters who dissect the journey of San Francisco garbage in a three-part series for Mother Jones magazine.

Reference: Urban Gardening Guide

For the best Web sites on starting an urban garden, learning about different types of urban gardens, composting and rainwater collection techniques for urban gardens, and information on community gardens in cities, visit findingDulcinea's Urban Gardening Web guide.
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