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San Franciscans Must Recycle and Compost -- or Else

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors voted today to require all businesses and residences to recycle and compost their garbage or face fines, which could lead to a lien on their property.

The ordinance, approved in a 9-2 vote, will force building owners to sign up for the city’s existing composting and recycling programs. The Board will deliver a final vote on the ordinance next week.

"Many tenants want to recycle and compost but the building does not offer the service,” Mayor Gavin Newsom said in a statement. “We're going to change that."

The city could enforce the ordinance with citations and penalties that “could not exceed $1,000, although the Directors could by regulation cap penalties at lower levels,” it said. The ordinance specifically pegs fines for buildings generating less than a cubic yard of trash per week, such as single-family homes, at less than $100.

Other cities, notably Seattle and San Diego, have mandatory recycling laws in place but fines are rarely leveled. Unpaid fines in San Francisco could lead to lien proceedings.

San Francisco generates some 2 million tons of solid waste annually, according to the city, but it also enjoys the highest waste diversion rate in the country -- 70 percent. By 2020, the city wants to send no waste to landfill.   

Progress on increasing the recycling rate has stalled, however, increasing less than 1 percent from 2005 and 2006.

The city has set a 75 percent recycling target by 2010 and doesn’t believe it can get there on voluntary recycling and composting alone. The city’s landfill contract provides for waste disposal of up to 15 million tons; by late 2007, 12 million tons had been used and the city estimates it will reach capacity in 2013.

The Department of Environment concluded after studying the city's waste streams that more than a third of the trash sent to the landfill could be composted. Another 31 percent -- mostly paper -- could be recycled. It estimates that fully utilizing the city’s recycling and composting programs could boost recycling rates to 90 percent.

Garbage bins CC licensed by Flickr user photomequickbooth.

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