SF Apartment, August 2014
by Robert Reed
(View the original article here)
Making sure your tenants recycle and compost can seem overwhelming, but the benefits—to the planet and to your pocket—are well worth the effort.
Trash is not a glamorous subject. In fact, most of us do not give much thought to our discards. But since we literally depend on a healthy environment—clean air and water, and healthy soils that produce organic fruits and vegetables—for our very existence, it is important to learn new information about the benefits of recycling.
As San Franciscans, we have much more control over where our discards go than people in other cities do. When we toss something in a recycling, compost or trash bin, we decide whether individual items will get made into new products, become compost that is applied to local farms, or be transported to and buried in a landfill. We do not always remember that we have this power, but we do. When we learn that the typical American produces 4.5 pounds of garbage a day—about one ton of discards per year—we begin to understand the scope of this issue and its effect on the environment.
We recycle because we know recycling helps protect our planet. Recycling saves water, energy and other resources like trees, natural gas and oil. Recycling also avoids what environmentalists call “upstream impacts,” such as diesel emissions from heavy equipment used to mine virgin materials.
And here’s an economic bonus: recycling creates 10 times more jobs than landfilling or incineration. Across the nation and the world, many communities are waking up to the fact that recycling is a powerful job creator. If every city in America recycled 75% of its waste, we could create 1.5 million new, permanent, local jobs, according to a report called “Recycling Works!” produced by a coalition of environmental and labor groups. In California alone, if all cities recycled 75%, we could create 120,000 new jobs, according to a new study from the Natural Resource Defense Council. In many cases, these jobs would include health care and a pension.
In San Francisco, we created 200 new jobs in 10 years by increasing recycling. Many of these jobs are at Recycle Central, the large plant Recology operates on Pier 96 to sort blue bin materials, including bottles, cans and paper. Before we opened Recycle Central, many of these workers did not have jobs or had minimum-wage jobs. Now they earn $20 an hour.
Composting Is Key
In addition to supporting green jobs, recycling helps San Francisco make further progress toward achieving key environmental goals set by the city. The most significant goal, the one that gives San Francisco the opportunity to be a true environmental leader, is the goal to achieve zero waste by 2020. Zero waste means sending next to nothing to landfills. That is an ambitious goal. It may also be the most important environmental goal our city could have set.
Composting, for example, saves tremendous amounts of water. That’s because compost, by weight, is 50% humus, also known as nature’s sponge. Microorganisms in compost break the yard and food waste down into smaller and smaller pieces. When the microbes have done their jobs and the pieces can’t get any smaller, we have humus. It is carbon-based and both attracts and retains water.
Agronomists report that if we can increase the amount of organic matter on farmland by 1% by adding compost, we can save 16,000 to 18,000 gallons of water per year. There are 45 million people in California. Image how much water we could save if everyone composted their food scraps, plant cuttings and food-soiled paper like we do in San Francisco. This should be a key consideration and motivation, given the seriousness of the California drought.
Recology began collecting food scraps for composting in 1996. The rest of the garbage collection and recycling industry thought we were nuts. Now, hundreds of cities and more than 1,000 universities have replicated the program. And many more want to do the same.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that most of these cities do not have a place to take their food scraps for composting. That’s because U.S. cities and businesses have not built nearly enough composting facilities. San Francisco is fortunate in this regard. Recology established three compost facilities capable of taking food scraps and plant cuttings collected in the city. One is outside Vacaville, another is near Modesto and a third is at Pacheco Pass near Gilroy.
Where could our country build more compost facilities? One answer is: on top of landfills. Then, instead of putting materials inside landfills, we could move food scraps, plant cuttings and food-soiled paper to compost sites.
Farmers love compost because high-quality compost contains billions of microorganisms, tiny life forms too small to see with the human eye. This is important because the microbes break down the nutrients in compost into small pieces, so small that they can be picked up by plants’ roots. Agronomists call the work microbes do “microbial action.”
Recology operates its compost facilities as microbe farms. There are 11 stages to our composting process. Fundamentally, it works like this: transport trucks bring food scraps and plants collected in small trucks from all properties in San Francisco to the facilities. In 60 days, Recology transforms this feedstock into nutrient-rich compost that is applied to more than 300 local farms, orchards and vineyards.
For 13 years, Nigel Walker of Eatwell Farm has applied compost made from food scraps collected in San Francisco. Walker describes the microbial action achieved by applying compost to his farm as “stoking a fire” in the soil. We might think of it as new life working in the soil.
Farmers often have agronomists test the topsoil on their farms to find out what they need to put back to balance their soils. With this knowledge, Recology creates custom blends of compost for individual farms. We do this on blending pads at our compost facilities. We mix in soil amendments such as gypsum, lime, sandy loam, minerals and rice hulls. Using tractors called loaders we top load the finished compost into specialized transport trucks that deliver it to area farms. Farmers love this because the compost arrives ready to be applied.
Not only does compost give farmers a viable alternative to using synthetic or chemical fertilizers, compost helps farms achieve higher yields. Such are the findings of side-by-side field trials by agricultural organizations, including the Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania, the oldest agricultural institute in the United States.
Here is another great reason to compost: many local vineyards use compost to grow cover crops that pull carbon out of the air and sequester carbon in topsoil. These cover crops, such as mustard, fix carbon and nitrogen naturally in the soil. Paul Hepperly, professor emeritus at the Rodale Institute and a Fulbright scholar, believes that if every community followed this example we could offset more than 20% of carbon emissions. That estimate is the subject of much interest and further study.
Recology also brings compost back to San Francisco for residents to use in gardens and on outdoor plants. The annual Compost Giveaway, which we host each spring, is a bring-your-own-bucket event where we set up and staff four giveaway locations throughout the city. Residents bring empty five-gallon buckets and we fill them with a gourmet planting mix. Recology also provides compost to urban farms and community gardens in San Francisco through efforts coordinated by the Parks and Recreation Department.
Recycling Big and Small
We also recycle tremendous amounts of construction and demolition debris in San Francisco. Such debris comes from large construction and demolition projects, and from small contractors and individuals who bring materials to the transfer station at 501 Tunnel Ave. Recology maintains and staffs special recycling facilities and sorting lines at the transfer station for this purpose.
Large or bulky items are collected and recycled through the RecycleMyJunk program. Residents can also recycle textiles, such as old clothes, through this program—a new and popular service. Go to RecycleMyJunk.com for details. Working at the city’s direction, Recology has assigned several trucks and crews specifically to collect illegal dumping. This new program is working well, and our city is visibly cleaner.
Finally, while trash may not be a glamorous subject, it can be made into beautiful and unique art works. Recology’s Artist-in-Residence program continues to gain in popularity and renown. Last year, the program hosted a major exhibition at SFO. Pieces can be seen throughout the city in building entrances and other locations, including a three-acre sculpture garden at the transfer station. To learn about current and upcoming exhibitions go to Recologysf.com/AIR.
Increasing Recycling and Managing Collection Costs
In July 2013, the San Francisco Rate Board approved a rate order that changed the price structure for apartment buildings to encourage more recycling and composting. In August 2013, Recology, San Francisco’s recycling company, sent correspondence to apartment building owners and managers explaining the new structure and offering to help apartment buildings increase recycling and compost collection services and reduce disposal. By making these changes, apartment building owners and managers can help protect the environment and help manage their collection service costs.
In November 2013, Recology wrote, and SF Apartment Magazine published, a lengthy article titled, “Waste Not, Want Not” explaining the new rate structure. As a brief update and reminder, collection service charges now apply to all three collection bins: recycling, composting and trash. Importantly, the monthly rate charged to apartment buildings is discounted up to a maximum of 75% based on the building’s overall recycling rate. The rate board instituted this structure in support of the city’s goal of achieving zero waste by 2020.
To give apartment buildings time to increase recycling and composting and reduce disposal, the city instituted temporary caps limiting increases in monthly bills. Many buildings took advantage of this window to adjust their complement of bins and the frequency of collection service.
Under the Rate Order, the monthly service charge at all properties in San Francisco included a cost-of-living adjustment of 2.3%, effective July 1, 2014. Some buildings may see a larger increase due to either the elimination or reduction in their cap credit. These affected buildings received a personalized letter informing them of their new rates.
Apartment building owners and managers are encouraged to use the online apartment rate calculator Recology maintains at sfzerowasterates.com to see how potential changes in bin types, sizes and frequency of collection would affect your building’s monthly rate. You can also call us at 415-330-1300 and one of our apartment-house specialists will be glad to talk with you over the phone or set an appointment for a personal rate and service evaluation during the workshops we host specifically for apartment building customers.
Many apartment buildings are cleaning up and painting their trash rooms. Some buildings are improving lighting in recycling and compost bin locations. These steps make recycling areas more pleasant places, which helps encourage tenants to place their discards in the correct bins.
Additionally, Recology hosts a “property managers’ lounge” on its site, which provides owners and managers with numerous resources to encourage tenants to recycle and compost. The page is posted at recologysf.com/index.php/property-managers-lounge.
A limited number of bright, new pink Toters® will soon be delivered to customers who want an easy and unique way to help provide assistance and resources to local cancer patients.
Recology Vacaville Solano is leasing 150 of the pink Toters® for $200 each year. If all Toters® are leased, $30,000 will be donated to the Solano Midnight Sun Breast Cancer Foundation. Midnight Sun helps provide assistance and resources to the women and men in the local community who are affected by cancer. The foundation also promotes early detection by providing women with funds for mammograms.
The pink Toters® replace the gray residual waste (trash) containers. Customers may sign up now for their Pink Toter® – they will be delivered in September, just in time for Breast Cancer Awareness month in October. All Recology Vacaville Solano customers are eligible to participate!
Customers are encouraged to come into the Recology office in Vacaville to sign up for the Pink Toter® program, or contact Julia Lopez, Recology Recycling Manager, at 707-448-2945 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you to all volunteers from our Recology Oregon facilities who dedicated Saturday, July 19th to Recologizing George Middle School in Portland!
The pre-event prep and event-day work clearly displays an amazing transformation of the school that was in need of landscaping and a bit of Recology love. Combating the invasive ivy and removing the stubborn weeds was an arduous task. Yet, thanks to the efforts of volunteers, the soil has been rejuvenated with Recology compost and mulch.
As the students at George Middle School return for the new academic year, we hope they will be excited to see that their greenhouse has been refurbished and the front-yard, courtyards and parking lot have been re-landscaped. This single day of volunteerism equates to 112 hours of service, which is approximately a $2,800 in-kind contribution to the school.
On Saturday, July 19, 2014, 200 Recology and community partners made a tremendous improvement to Little Hollywood Park in San Francisco’s Visitacion Valley neighborhood.
We selected this project not only to beautify the neighborhood park in close proximity to our Recology San Francisco transfer station, but to share our Recology spirit in memory of our late colleague, John Legnitto.
With the help of volunteers, we accomplished the following:
- Weeded and removed invasive wild blackberry and Algerian ivy located adjacent to the Recology property line
along a 100 yard fence on the upper park level.
- Planted over 100 native drought tolerant plants supplied by SFRPD using 30 cubic feet of Recology potting mix for 10 cement planter
boxes and surrounding hillside.
- Spread 60 cubic yards of Recology arbor mulch produced by Recology Grover Environmental Products in selected areas throughout the 1.3 acre park.
- Power washed, prepped and painted 10 wooden picnic tables, 18 wooden park benches, 15 cement trash receptacles, 10 cement planter boxes, a wooden swing structure, a multi-level staircase, railing and retaining walls using tools from Recology CleanScapes and paint supplied by SFRPD.
All work was done in preparation for the park renovation that will take place in October 2014. Together, our efforts for one day totaled 800 hours of service, which amounts to an in-kind donation of over $20,000 to the SFRPD.
Thank you for making our joint project with the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department (SFRPD) a success!
The Recology San Francisco Environmental Learning Center has been re-named in honor of the late SF Group Manager, John A. Legnitto. Although John lost his battle with cancer on April 26th, 2014, we will always remember the good times we had with him, and the impact that he had on the Recology family.
Thanks to all who helped coordinate this dedication in John’s honor!
What is the best way to feed soil? Apply compost. Ohlson writes about small farmers who call themselves soil farmers, microbe farmers, and even carbon farmers because they know carbon makes “their soils richer, moister, and darker.” Her book, which bears the subtitle “How Scientists, Farmers, and Foodies Are Healing the Soil to Save the Planet,” features comments from experts who say this kind of farming can accelerate “removal of carbon from the atmosphere via photosynthesis.”
That’s good stuff we can all support. Start today. Please place all food scraps, plant cuttings, and food-soiled paper in your green bin, and we will turn it into compost that is applied to local farms, orchards, and vineyards.
Debris boxes for larger jobs
We offer a full complement of debris boxes and professional pick up and delivery service for all kinds of construction, demolition, and remodeling projects. And we recycle the contents at our construction recycling facility in San Francisco.
For details, go to DebrisBoxRental.com and click on “Order Debris Box” or call 1-888-404-4008.
Recology SF can deliver 2- to 6-cubic yard metal bins to customers doing small construction, remodeling, or clean out projects. Call 1-888-404-4008 and ask about our bin-by-the-day service.
Sign up for invites to environmental films
Recology continues to offer showings of environmental films for your enlightenment and enjoyment. Last year, Recology and Mayor Ed Lee co-hosted a screening of Trashed, a documentary featuring Jeremy Irons. This year we hosted Growing Cities, a film about urban farming in America, and Waste Land, a feature film which won more than 50 awards internationally.
To be alerted to future screenings, go to RecologySF.com and sign up to receive “email updates.” Look for the picture of the smart phone on the right-hand side of the homepage.
San Francisco residents can schedule a special pickup for large or bulky items at no additional cost, including textiles! Go to RecycleMyJunk.com for program guidelines.
Recology San Mateo County (Recology) would like to congratulate this year’s BizSMART @ Work Award winners. Recology’s team thrives on working with the businesses and multi-family complexes to help them increase their diversion levels.
Recology works closely with customers by providing waste audits, cost savings analyses, internal recycling and compost containers, recycle buddy bags, posters, in addition to other outreach materials, and onsite trainings and presentations. With these tools, Recology’s Waste Zero Specialist can identify what technical assistance each customer needs to educate their staff and reduce waste going to the landfill.
Award categories include Recycle, Compost, and a combined Recycle and Compost. The winners for this year’s awards are as follows:
Diddams Party Store, San Carlos
Sand Cove Apartments, Foster City
300 Alpine Road LLC, West Bay Sanitary District
Bayshore Christian Ministries, East Palo Alto
Donato Enoteca, Redwood City
Milagros, Redwood City
Menlo Circus Club, Atherton
Oak Grove HOA/Manor, Menlo Park
Papillon Preschool, San Mateo
Promontory Point, Foster City
Recycling and Composting Category:
Abbott Vascular, Menlo Park
Back Yard Coffee Company, Redwood City
Catered Too, East Palo Alto
Embarcadero Capital Partners LLC, Belmont
Hassett Hardware, San Mateo
Impossible Foods, Inc., Redwood City
Kingston Café, San Mateo
The Plant Cafe, Burlingame
Rocket Fuel, Redwood City
Sweet Production, San Carlos
Villa Lucia’s Pizza, San Mateo County
The public also had a chance to select the 2014 Rethinker’s Choice Award by voting for their favorite nominees selected from the Recycle and Compost category winners through the RethinkWaste website. The winner of the 2014 Rethinkers’ Choice Award will be announced at the luncheon.
The nominees for the 2014 Rethinker’s Choice Award are:
Abbott Vascular, Redwood City
Back Yard Coffee Company, Redwood City
Embarcadero Capital Partners LLC, Belmont
Kingston Café, San Mateo
Sweet Production, San Carlos
We first turned our attention to food waste in 1996 when Recology implemented a food scraps collection program in San Francisco. Still in use today, the green bin program ensures that organic material, such as food scraps and yard trimmings, do not end up in landfills. Many other Recology companies and cities have implemented similar programs, including San Mateo County and San Bruno. You can learn more about the affects of landfilling organics here: US Composting Council – Keeping Organics out of Landfills.
Although we think it’s important to recycle food scraps when possible, we think it’s just as important to consider ways to reduce food waste altogether.
Americans throw away 40% of their food, according to The National Resources Defense Council.
The environmental impact of wasted food is fairly large. Imagine the amount of energy, oil, and water is used to produce and transport food across the United States, from farms to cities, and from cities to rural areas.
By preventing food from even entering a bin, we significantly reduce financial and environmental impacts. Here are a few small, but impactful tips for reducing your food waste.
- Plan your meals, buy what you need – There’s a fine line between purchasing enough food and buying too much. Planning your meals for the week will help you stick to a plan, meaning you’re less likely to toss expired food.
- Learn more about expiration dates – Foods that are edible after the marked expiration date is surprising. The use-by dates don’t always indicate spoiled food, but then again it’s good to know which foods are more sensitive to these dates than others.
- Freeze unused food – Utilize your freezer. If you’re unable to finish the pot pie you made last night, freeze portions for quick lunches and dinners.
- Take your lunch or share your leftovers– Using leftovers for meals at work is the best way to use excess food. Pack leftovers in your kids’ lunch, or share with coworkers, family, or friends if you know you’re not going to finish it.
- Proper storage – Learn how to store fruit and vegetables. It’s important to keep pre-cut and chopped produce in the refrigerator in sealed containers.
Recology Western Oregon Partners with Local Veteran to Restore and Donate Thousands of Bicycles in Yamhill County
Three years ago, Dean Williams, a retired Vietnam Veteran from Amity, OR, noticed a few perfectly good bikes on a pile of scrap metal at a nearby waste facility. At the time, his granddaughter’s bike was recently stolen, so he went in to ask about purchasing one.
From that day on, Dean has been dedicated to refurbishing and donating bikes to local schools, probation departments, the Yamhill County Action Partnership (YCAP), police departments, church groups, and other local community organizations. Many of the donated bikes are the primary mode of transportation for recipients, members of the community who do not have access to a vehicle use the bikes to commute to work or school.
By early 2014, Dean’s project had become so successful, he’d run into a problem: his home’s driveway was full of salvaged parts, and he needed more tools and resources to continue his project.
Recology Western Oregon (RWO) decided to help. Dean’s project embraces RWO’s mission to achieve “Waste Zero” by finding a new life for previously discarded materials. It also provides a sustainable form of transportation for local children and families in need.
To help Dean’s project grow, RWO established a new Bike Shop at the RWO Valley Recovery Zone in McMinnville, OR. Dean has been provided with tools, storage space, and access to discarded bike parts at the facility. Even the shop’s benches and tables carry a message of sustainability – Dean salvaged lumber from RWO wood piles to build the work benches.
The shop is also serves as an education center where members of the community can learn basic bike maintenance and repair. Dean and RWO hope to educate the public on the importance of reuse and recycle, ensuring fewer resources end up in the scrap pile.
Dean has repaired and donated over 1,600 bikes as of May 2014, and with the help of RWO, his mission continues to expand. A box of bikes is currently being prepared for shipment to Africa, and Dean also plans to expand his collection efforts to other Recology operations along the Oregon Coast and Washington State.
Dean’s story began as one person’s passion to turn trash into treasure; today, it’s become a model reuse and recycle program. If you’d like more information or would like to get involved in the project, please stop by the “Bike Shop” at RWO’s Valley Recovery Zone, or send an email to email@example.com.
In honor of International Compost Awareness Week (May 5 – 11), an initiative created by the US Composting Council, we’re sharing our thoughts on this years focus: “Compost: The Solution to Sustainable Soil and Water.”
The traditional reasons to participate in a curbside compost program are to keep materials out of landfills and to return nutrients, in the form of compost, to local farms and vineyards. Those nutrients give farmers a viable alternative to using synthetic fertilizers and help farmers grow healthy food that comes back to the city to support our good health.
But there is a third great reason to compost: It helps California, our home state, save water – tremendous amounts of water.
Compost is 50 percent humus by weight. Humus is organic matter that helps soil retain moisture. Humus is a form of carbon; it both attracts and holds water. When we apply compost to an orchard, farm, or vineyard, we increase the amount of humus in the farm’s soil, and thereby increase the capacity of the soil to withstand drought conditions.
Farmers like to apply compost because doing so helps their soil and their crops get the full benefit of any rain or irrigation. This is particularly important for orchards, which require a lot of irrigation.
Here is a key statistic: If we increase organic matter by one percent on one acre of land by adding compost and by farming environmentally, we can save 16,500 gallons of water per year. Imagine how much water we could save if every city in California participated in a compost collection programs, sending a lot more compost to local farms.
Knowing that composting is a highly effective way to help California save water, many Recology employee-owners have an increased motive to participate in Recology’s green-bin programs. We are doing a good job of composting scraps and plant cuttings in many areas like San Francisco, but we can do much better. What can an individual do on a daily basis to help? Place all food scraps and plant cuttings in the green bin for curbside collection. Also, we can place all food-soiled paper, things like used paper napkins and towels, in the green bin (soiled paper has short fibers – microorganisms in compost like short paper fibers). Soiled paper in a kitchen compost pail or curbside compost bin will also absorb moisture, which will help control odor.
Recology set the trend when we started an urban compost collection program in San Francisco in 1996 to reduce landfill disposal and turn food scraps into compost. Now we can help our state save great amounts of water by extending our good green habit and composting all of our scraps, plant cuttings, and soiled paper.