San Francisco recycles to combat food waste

Food and sustainability

San Francisco recycles to combat food waste

San Francisco recycles to combat food waste

Recycling 80% of total waste compared to the national average of 34.5%, San Francisco is the most committed city to combatting food waste, a position achieved through targeted policies, specific laws and food education campaigns.

It all started in 1989 with the Integrated Waste Management Act, approved in California, whose ambitious goal was to prevent food waste, in other words, stopping food and other potentially recyclable materials ending up in landfill. The targets were to reduce landfill waste by 25% by 1995, and 50% by 2000. As referenced in the Food Sustainability Index, compiled by the BCFN and the Economist Intelligence Unit (LINK al sito EIU-BCFN), the city of San Francisco took the new law very seriously indeed, reaching the 2000 target and setting two even more ambitious ones: 75% by 2010 and “zero waste” (no food waste in landfill or incinerators) by 2020.

An invitation to dinner… at the rubbish bin

A dinner made from food destined to be thrown out held at the unusual location of the rubbish bin may seem a bit out-there for some, but it is just one of many food waste policies that have taken place in cities like New York, Paris and San Francisco, where sustainable food education is becoming a priority. In San Francisco the battle is taking place on many other fronts united to achieve one mission: to recover food and give it new life in another form. “In most cities the majority of composted waste is cut grass and veggie plots scraps, but we knew this wouldn’t be enough, and that to reach our targets we would have to focus on the recovery of food,” explained Jack Macy, Coordinator of Commercial Waste in the city. “It remained a problem: we didn’t know which strategies to roll out,” he added. 


Rules, education and policies 

Early food waste policies from the San Francisco authorities focused on helping food banks collect food that was still good to eat to feed the hungry. Not long after, a recycling programme for families and commercial businesses was launched, involving the introduction of the so-called “fantastic three”: three coloured bins to separate the collection of unrecyclable waste (black), recyclable waste (blue), and food scraps and compostable waste (green). In 2009, recycling became mandatory by law, with many police officers involved in ensuring it was respected. Unpopular to some, this action means the city now collects 590 tonnes of compostable waste daily. But it’s not all about law: the council decided to invest heavily in information and educating citizens, as well as providing economic incentives. The pick-up of recyclable waste is free for families, whereas landfill waste is not, and restaurants and commercial businesses get discounts if they recycle or compost their waste. 


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Each to their own recycling

Where does food waste “saved” from landfill end up? One of the main applications is composting. Organic waste produces certified compost which is bought by hundreds of vineyards in California and, more recently, by fruit and vegetable producers who are able to better tackle the drought of recent years with the spongey consistency of the compost, which absorbs and holds water. Food recovery also benefits countless no-profit associations that donate food to those who need it, like Food Runners which collects enough food from restaurants and catering services to feed 5,000 people daily. What’s more, associations like Cerplus put producers with excess production in contact with restaurants and grocery stores to promote competitive pricing, while others like Imperfect Produce have their sights setting on selling the “ugly” vegetables often rejected by stores and restaurants. 


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