Every morning, garbage trucks swing by the Hotel Nikko, the Palace Hotel and MoMo’s, picking up food left on dinner plates and in San Francisco chefs’ kitchens. Green crews hit neighborhoods from the Mission to the Sunset, collecting oatmeal, chicken bones and dead tree leaves.
About 2,000 restaurants, 2,080 large apartment buildings and 50,000 single-family homes have embraced the city’s environmentally friendly green bins. The scrap is turned into gold, a rich compost that boosts the region’s bounty of food while curbing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
San Francisco’s garbage and recycling companies are leading the way in producing a high-quality, boutique compost tailored for Bay Area growers, experts say. In one year, 105,000 tons of food scraps and yard trimmings – 404 tons each weekday – get turned into 20,000 tons of compost for 10,000 acres.
The compost is in such demand from nearby growers of wine grapes, vegetables and nuts that it sells out at peak spreading season every year.
One big payoff comes from the crops that return to feed the Bay Area, making a full circle of food returning to food. The composted crops are sold in farmers’ markets to restaurants such as Chez Panisse in Berkeley and in wine made by Sonoma and Napa vintners.
Returning decaying organic matter to the soil also helps San Francisco meet a state law that requires cities to reduce waste going to landfills. The move also keeps plant and animal material out of the dumps, where it decomposes and emits methane, a greenhouse gas, and can leak into water supplies.
The city’s success in the world of waste is attracting attention as a model for other cities, experts say. Meanwhile, Mayor Gavin Newsom is expected to take an ordinance to the Board of Supervisors that would make composting and recycling mandatory for all residential and commercial customers and levy fines of up to $500 for repeat offenders.
San Francisco has a self-imposed goal of diverting three-quarters of its waste from landfills in 2010. Food scraps thrown in black garbage bins make up about a third of that.
Other Bay Area counties are revving up green waste collection. Waste Management picks it up in Oakland, Hayward and other East Bay cities and sends it to commercial composters.
GreenWaste collects in Sonoma and Santa Clara counties and creates a compost for sale to growers and gardeners. The organic material that Allied Waste Management Services picks up in parts of Alameda and Contra Costa counties is used as landfill cover.
San Francisco’s compost is sold under the brand of Jepson Prairie Organics, a subsidiary of Norcal Waste Systems, the parent company of employee-owned Sunset Scavenger and Golden Gate Disposal and Recycling Co.