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Have you ever thought of a city where you don’t produce any amount of waste and still everything goes on smoothly?

In this article I will tell you about San Fransisco on the way of becoming a Zero Waste Emission City.

So what actually does it mean to be a zero waste city and what are pros and cons of it. Read the complete article to learn more about these things.

What is Zero Waste?

Zero waste is a term used to state that a particlar town or city is sending zero discards to the landfill .It can also be in some other areas such as a high-temperature destruction plant.

To achieve this goal manufactring of products is done in such a way that it helps in reduction of waste without compromising over the quality of that product. used according to the principle of highest and best use and the waste reduction hierarchy:

  • Prevent waste
  • Reduce and reuse first
  • Recycle and compost

Prevent Waste

1. Polystyrene Foam and the Food Service and Packaging Waste Reduction Ordinance

The Food Service Waste Reduction Ordinance prohibits the use of polystyrene foam food service ware and requires the use of food ware that is compostable or recyclable.

2. Checkout Bag Ordinance

San Francisco’s Checkout Bag Ordinance went into effect on October 1, 2012.

3. Food Waste Prevention 

Shopping locally, storing food to last, and making sure we know when food is safe or spoiled are key parts of preventing food waste.

4. Rethink Disposable

Rethink single-use disposables, and bring your own mug and tote bag to reduce waste.

5.Stop Junk Mail and Unwanted Phonebooks

Prevent junk mail and phonebooks from arriving at your door!

6.Consumer Responsibility

To achieve zero waste, consumers must also take responsibility for their consumption. You can reduce waste every day.

7.Producer Responsibility

Companies must recognize their responsibility in producing goods that result in less waste upstream and downstream



Reduce and reuse first

Zero waste is first about preventing waste – to reduce and reuse as much as possible before buying new, then about recycling and composting.

Recycle and compost

Zero Waste means waste prevention, reducing consumption, reusing, recycling, and composting with nothing going to landfill or incineration.

How it started

Creation of Environment Code

In 2002, San Francisco set a goal of 75% diversion by 2010 and Zero Waste by 2020. The city’s comprehensive Environment Code, created in 2003, is based on the Precautionary Principle. The city’s Mandatory Recycling and Composting Ordinance, passed in 2009, requires all of San Francisco to separate recyclable materials, compostable materials and landfilled trash.

Fantastic Three Plan

San Francisco implemented an innovative “Fantastic Three” residential curbside collection program that includes separate collection of commingled recyclables; compostable materials, including all food scraps, food-soiled paper and yard trimmings; and any remaining trash in three separate bins with various size and rate options.

Zero Waste is… sending nothing to landfill, incineration or high temperature technologies. We create policies and programs that reduce waste, and increase access to recycling and composting. SF Environment is doing everything we can to make it happen.
– SF Environment

Implementation of full fledged program

The city implemented the first and largest urban food scraps composting collection program in the U.S., covering both commercial and residential sectors. San Francisco has collected more than a million tons of food scraps, yard trimmings, and other compostable materials and turned it into compost that is used by local farmers and wineries in Napa and Sonoma counties.

San Francisco diverted nearly 80% diversion in 2012 – the highest rate of any major U.S. city – and continues to implement innovative initiatives including:
  • Zero Waste Climate Action Planning
    • ​Setting a Zero Waste Goal
    • Reduce upstream waste through material management and producer responsibility policies
  • Single Use Plastic Checkout Bag Ban
  • Food Service Waste Reduction Ordinance (banning polystyrene and other non-recyclable, non-compostable food service items)
  • Zero Waste Textile Initiative
  • Customisable Signs for recycling, composting and land filling
  • Construction and Demolition Debris Recovery Ordinance
  • Event Recycling and Composting Requirement
  • Cigarette Litter Abatement Ordinance

Contractual Agreement

Instead of a contract, San Francisco and Recology, Inc. have a unique long-term ordinance where the city sets and approves the rates. The city’s 1932 ordinance regulates collectors of discarded materials through 97 exclusive permit areas. Over time, Recology and its predecessor companies purchased all of the permits, resulting in the company becoming the exclusive collector of discarded materials for a fee within the city limits.

The city provides oversight, research and outreach while the service provider develops infrastructure, provides collection, processing and reporting. To insure success, San Francisco and Recology senior program managers maintain regular communication and meet weekly to oversee performance, review tasks and resolve outstanding issues.


Strong Policy Leadership

  •  Strong political leadership and staff expertise have resulted in innovative policy initiatives
  • Mandatory recycling and composting
  • Plastic bag ban
  • Food service ware ordinance and polystyrene ban
  • Cigarette butt fee and state-of-the-art outreach programs covering residences, commercial, schools and events.


Approving and Setting Residential Refuse Rates Supports Collaboration and Flexibility

  • Under the 1932 Refuse Collection and Disposal Initiative Ordinance, San Francisco’s Director of Department of Public Works is responsible for reviewing the rate applications for any adjustments to residential refuse rates.
  • Public hearings are held and a report is issued, recommending whether the rates are just and reasonable.
  • Typically a rate application is submitted every five years. This allows the city and service provider to work collaboratively on programmatic development for several years between rate-making processes.
  • Not conducting procurement processes or managing contracts and overseeing only one service provider simplifies administration, communications and information gathering.
  • It allows programmatic flexibility, long-term planning and collaboration.

Rewards Generators and Service Provider for Reducing Waste

  • Businesses receive a rate discount based on actual diversion, providing strong financial incentives reduce waste, recycle and compost.


Dependent on Ratemaking Process: 

Since there is no contractual agreement, the city works with the service provider through the ratemaking process and on-going oversight.

Limited Competition:

  • The city’s ordinance was affirmed by voters in 2012. The ordinance clearly limits competition; however, strong zero waste programs are currently being delivered.

Who started it


  •  It is the company which is helping to make this plan successful.
  • They’re a private company that handles the processing of San Francisco’s compost, recycling and landfill trash.
  • All SF residents and businesses are required by law to separate their garbage into these three categories.
  • The law was passed in 2009 with hopes of getting the city closer to that zero waste status.

Hear from them about project

Robert Reed, a spokesman for Recology, told Seeker’s Laura Ling, “When I started at Recology 23 years ago, the recycling rate was around 38%; today, we’ve more than doubled that.” In fact, San Francisco has been able to divert 80% of its waste away from landfills, and the world is taking notice.

  • Ling spoke with Daniel Andersen, Vice Mayor of Alborg, Denmark, about the ways they’re incorporating Recology’s method into their city’s waste management program.
  • Alborg does a lot of incineration but they have yet to start composting on a large scale like San Francisco. After his recent visit to the Recology facility Andersen said “One thing we heard a lot is the value of composting. We don’t do that a lot. Maybe we will go home and do more composting.”

How is it done?

  • 650 tons of organic waste is collected in San Francisco every day. It’s then brought to the Recology facility where it’s ground up and screened for non-organic matter like plastic.
  • A piping system helps to filter out greenhouse gases that are produced by microbes in the compost and are dangerous to the environment.
  • The best part is that after the compost is processed, it’s sold to local farmers and vineyards to produce new crops, bringing everything full circle.


According to Reed, compost is one of the best ways we can combat environmental destruction.

  • Composting keeps materials out of landfills.
  • Returns nutrients to farms
  • Reduces the production of landfill gases, which are very potent greenhouse gases
  • Attracts and retains water like rainwater. Many farmers that buy the compost from Recology use it to grow cover crops that pull carbon out of the air and put it back in the soil.

Even if your city doesn’t collect compost, you can still do it on your own and add it to a backyard or rooftop garden. Composting is the easiest thing you can do on an individual level to protect our earth and slow the effects of climate change.

Everyday Actions Towards Zero Waste

  • Even though San Francisco has dramatically reduced the amount sent to landfills, half of what is sent can still be recycled or composted.
  • Composting and recycling more can help residents, businesses and city government save money
  • Conserve natural resources
  • Protect our climate.

San Francisco has already set a North American record for recycling & composting, but without the help of citizens it is difficult to reach zero waste.

Is Zero Waste Possible?

The City and County of San Francisco believes achieving zero waste is possible. In San Francisco, over half of what still goes in the landfill bins can be recycled in the blue bin or composted in the green bin. When all material is sent to the correct bins, San Francisco’s diversion rate can increase from 80 percent to 90 percent. SF Environment will continue to promote best practices, including waste prevention, recycling and composting.

To achieve 100 percent zero waste, SF Environment will continue to advocate for state legislation and partner with producers to develop a producer responsibility system, where producers design better products and take responsibility for the entire life-cycle of a product, including take-back and recycling.

Zero Waste Resources

  • Zero Waste Legislation
  • Zero Waste Grants
  • Zero Waste Textiles Initiative
  • San Francisco Waste Characterization Study (PDF)


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