San Franciscans Must Now Separate Their Trash into 3 Bins or Face Fines

By Monica Gabriel | June 12, 2009 | 4:36 PM EDT

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom

( – The Board of Supervisors for the City of San Francisco passed (9-2) a mandatory recycling and compositing ordinance last week, which will make it compulsory for residents to recycle, compost, or be fined. A final vote is scheduled for this week and is expected to pass, which means the law would go into effect in 90 days.

The ordinance reportedly is the most sweeping recycling law in the country.
The mandatory recycling ordinance, proposed by Democratic Mayor Gavin Newsom, makes it compulsory for every residence and business in San Francisco to separate their trash into three different trash bins: blue for recycling, green for compost, and black for trash.
Those residents who do not comply or fail to separate their trash appropriately can be fined – there is a grace period until July 2011. The fines are capped at $100 for residences and small businesses and go up to $500 for larger businesses.
Mayor Newsom’s goal is for San Francisco to have a 75 percent recycling rate in 2010, with zero waste in 2020. “while several other cities require recycling service and participation, San Francisco is the first city to require the collection of food scraps and other compostables,” reads a statement on the City’s Web site.
 The San Francisco Chronicle reported on June 10 that some city residents are upset over the idea of inspectors sifting through their garbage to tag bags that are sorted incorrectly.
Another critic of the new ordinance is attorney Steven Milloy, publisher of and author of Green Hell: How Environmentalists Plan to Control your Life and What You Can Do to Stop Them.
“I don’t think it bodes well for the future -- are we going to start enforcing trivial environmental laws with police power?” Milloy told
Robert Reed, a spokesman for San Francisco collectors Sunset Scavenger Co., a subsidiary of Recology, said that this ordinance does not create a trash police.
“Our collection drivers will not become enforcers,” Reed told the San Francisco Chronicle.
But Milloy said: “If I have a banana peel, I don’t immediately take it out.  Do I need to have three trash cans in my kitchen? This is crazy. They don’t regulate bath houses, which can be a public health problem, but they are going to regulate your trash?”
While Milloy sees these particular environmental rules as overkill, Reed said the mandatory recycling ordinance is important legislation.
“Landfill space is definitely a problem in San Francisco because San Francisco is completely developed,” he told “Landfills take a lot of real estate, real estate is expensive.”
Reed also said that landfills full of decomposing material release harmful amounts of methane gas.
“If you send it [compost] to a modern compost facility, we can preserve much of the carbon in the finished compost,” he said. “When that compost is applied to a vineyard or a farm, that carbon returns to the soil.”
Despite the most up-to-date data showing the many benefits of compost recycling, the idea of mandatory recycling enforced with fines makes many people uncomfortable.
“The thing that bothers me is if you want to recycle, then fine, have voluntary programs, but I can’t imagine that the state is going to come in and mandate that I recycle something,” Milloy told
Reed said that there has already been a lot of public momentum behind recycling in San Francisco.