Zero Waste for Earth Day

Go Zero Waste with Recology for Earth Day!

As part of our continued work to move the communities we serve closer to sending nothing to the landfill, Recology would like to invite people around the world to join us in going zero waste for Earth Day on Monday, April 22nd.

What does zero waste on Earth Day mean?

On Earth Day, many Recology staff will try to not sending anything to the landfill for one day – meaning only using and discarding items that are recyclable or compostable. Take your lunch in reusable containers instead of single use packaging, or only buy lunch in containers that are compostable and recyclable.

Document your experience.

As part of going Zero Waste for Earth Day, we’d like to hear about your experience in trying to send nothing to landfill for a day. Document your day with photos, videos, a blog post, or any other way you’d like! After Earth Day, we’ll compile all of the thoughts and media we received into a blog post, to be posted at

Some ideas for what to document:

  • What was difficult about going for zero waste?
  • What did you find yourself having to avoid that you normally would have taken or bought?
  • Did trying to go zero waste for a day change how you think about purchases, waste, or recycling?

Any and all thoughts and ideas are welcome – we’re looking forward to hearing from you!

The pit that you don’t see

It is safe to say that the work we’ve been doing to create alternatives to landfill disposal has forced a change in the traditional waste industry. And it’s an industry that badly needs to change.

One way that we’ve done this is to show people where their garbage goes, and what’s in it. We often take people on tours of our transfer stations, and show them what they think goes “away” after they leave their garbage on the curb.  Most companies would never show the public what the folks at the Recology transfer station in San Francisco call “the Pit”. 

Src: Rebuilding Together San Francisco via flickr

The Pit temporarily holds what goes into the garbage can before it’s transfered to a landfill. Most of it is recyclable or compostable. When we look at the pit, we feel the same sense of sadness that others feel when they’re exposed to it for the first time. There’s a lot of wasted material in there.

We don’t hide the Pit for a reason. What folks see in there is an important part of their education about recycling, composting and landfills. And we show it to them for another reason too: to show them what they’re not seeing when they look at the Pit. Fifteen to twenty years ago, the Pit saw about 3,000 tons of waste per day. Today, the number is 1,350. We’ve been able to do this through our partnership with every resident of San Francisco and the Department of the Environment, and the three-bin system that we created, which allows everyone to sort out their compostable and recyclable material from their garbage.  

We participate in coastal and city-wide clean up days to make sure what can be recycled is recycled during those events, and try to inspire people to see garbage differently through our Artist in Residence program in San Francisco and GLEAN in Portland.

Of course, there will always be garbage as long as products are made to be disposable after a single use, and as long as that is true, we will need landfills. But, we hope that the landfills of the future are “inert”–meaning no recyclable and no compostable materials go there.

Coming up with new ways to prevent usable resources from being wasted is part of the joy in our jobs. For example, one of the employees at the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) in San Francisco came up with the idea to recover BART tickets that still had some value and to use the proceeds to support Friends of the Urban Forest and the San Francisco Food Bank.

We love that we get a chance to make a real, positive impact on the lives of people in the cities and towns where we work, and on resource conservation and the climate. It’s a tough and dirty job, but we are glad to do it.

A renewable resource coming from City of Vacaville

There are many ways to create renewable energy, from the ocean, to the wind, to the sun. On the other hand, there are very few ways to make topsoil, and it takes millions of years to do it at Mother Nature’s pace. 

That’s why the trend that began in Florida to overturn the ban on organics from landfills is especially troubling. You may have heard of it. Although it is well known that organic materials create methane gas as they decompose in landfills, and that methane gas is a potent greenhouse gas that has the ability to trap heat in the atmosphere 21 times more effectively than carbon dioxide, landfill companies are opting to put them back in landfills under the misnomer of creating renewable energy. 

Jodie Humphries wrote an article titled “The impact of domestic food waste on climate change” which was published in Next Generation Food. In the article, she writes:

The amount of food waste generated in the US is huge. It is the third largest waste stream after paper and yard waste. In 2008, about 12.7 percent of the total municipal solid waste (MSW) generated in America was food scraps. Less than three percent of that 32 million tonnes was recovered and recycled. The rest – 31 million tonnes – was thrown away into landfills or incinerators, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Landfill gas emissions are supposed to be curbed, per an EPA program, through gas collection systems. Although most of the landfills in the U.S. do not have a gas collection system–meaning that methane gas is freely being emitted into the atmosphere, many landfill companies continue operating as before. In some cases, they are attempting to justify the installation of landfill gas management systems by mandating that states like Florida force organic materials into landfills. The consequence is that not only will more methane emissions be released into the atmosphere, but the soil health and production capacity of the surrounding farm land will decline over time. Landfill gas collection systems are the least environmentally-preferred option for managing organic material that is thrown away. It is always better to reduce the amount of food wasted, donate what is excess, or to recycle it into compost before burying its nutrient potential in a landfill. 

Why compost before landfilling? Everything that we eat that doesn’t come from the ocean depends on topsoil to grow. As topsoil is used to grow food, it gets depleted of nutrients that we need to lead healthy lives. It is replenished with nutrients by adding compost and hummus to it.

Compost is a moist soil amendment with a sweet, earthy, tabacco-like smell. This resource reduces the amount of water needed to harvest crops, it represses weeds and improves the health of the soil and the plants that grow in it. Think of it a the multivitamin for the ground. Forcing the resource into landfills is a short-sighted approach to energy production. There is nothing “renewable” about this type of energy, because forcing organic material into a landfill diminishes the total organics that can be harvested over time. That makes landfill gas a non-renewable resource. And the recent push to put more organics back into landfills through the reversal of the organics ban in Florida in the name of creating “renewable” energy has put things into a new perspective.

If the world system collapsed tomorrow so that there was no refrigeration, no mechanically-powered transportation and no electricity, would you prefer to have soil to grow your food, or would you prefer to have a pipeline? There are many ways to generate energy, but none of them can grow your food.

The planet needs places like Jepson Prairie Organics in Vacaville, California because that facility made it possible to provide the Northern California region with state of the art resource recovery systems that closely approximate what Mother Nature does at a reasonable cost. The City of Vacaville’s leadership in recycling, their community support and innovation has made it possible for food scraps composting and organics recycling to evolve into a resource for the agricultural community while creating landfill diversion, and preventing the creation of greenhouse gases.

 The idea of WASTE ZERO is to make the best and highest use of all resources. Compost is one way to keep the planet turning.

A direct portal to a landfill

There was an article posted last week on about the semantics in the world of resource recovery. Jocelyn Saurini wrote “don’t think that I’m one of those girls on a bandwagon about how San Francisco does everything right. Believe me, I am not that girl. However, the city has nailed one thing fabulously: They’ve found a way to make residents think about landfill size every single time they throw things away.”

During her trip to SF, she discovered that landfill-bound material is collected in a container labeled “landfill” and not “trash” or “garbage”.

Semantics do matter in what we do because the materials that go into the green and blue containers ARE NOT garbage. According to one dictionary, garbage means: “any matter that is no longer wanted or needed; trash.”

But in the areas where we work, what diligent people do every day is make a decision to save our natural resources by recycling and composting. They are not “throwing away” anything except what there is no next best use for. The materials we recycle become the same or next use items. We convert the organics that we collect into compost. Let’s stop calling it garbage.

As for landfill size–yes, landfill space matters. In some communities people do not think about what they throw away and quickly use up the area available to dispose of true garbage. That means they end up having to find more land to use for landfilling “garbage”. But we see a more fundamental problem. Many useful resources are buried in the first place because no recycling alternatives exist.

As for everything that goes in the landfill container, yes its true that has no chance to be recovered. It doesn’t get sorted for usable material. So we depend on people to make the wise choice and minimize the amount of true garbage they put in that container. We know, like Jocelyn does, that “waste doesn’t just disappear.” That’s why we say WASTE ZERO.

Learn how to WASTE ZERO at the Free Small Business Week Workshop

Posted in Events, How-to..., Recology, Waste Reduction, WASTE ZERO by wastezerosf on May 11, 2011

Don’t Let Your Bottom Line Go To Waste – WASTE ZERO

Recology Sunset Scavenger and Recology Golden Gate, in partnership with the San Francisco Department of the Environment, invite you to attend a lively discussion centered around reducing waste at your business. By maximizing recycling, composting, and reuse options, you can help reduce your impact on climate change, save natural resources, and improve your company’s bottom line.

This interactive panel discussion will focus on the meaning of zero waste, how to take effective steps to reduce waste at your business, and will also provide you with information about the many free resources available help your business go green.

Bob Besso, Recology
John Hanscom, LEED AP, ESA, Renewable Resources Group
Alex Dmitriew, San Francisco Department of the Environment

Chris Levaggi, Recology

Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Session 4, 3:20-5:00pm

Sign up for this workshop

Small Business Conference 
SF State Downtown Campus

What Does Your Bag Say About You?

Posted in Waste Reduction, Waste Streams, You Should Know... by recologysanmateocounty on April 27, 2011

Did you know the United States consumes 30 billion plastic bags every year, requiring 12 million barrels of oil? To make matters worse – less than 1% of all plastic bags get recycled! It takes 1,000 years for a plastic bag to decompose in a landfill, and those that don’t make it to a landfill contaminate our oceans and kill hundreds of thousands of marine mammals each year.

Do you bring your own bag when you go shopping? The Bay Area Recycling Outreach Coalition (BayROC) has launched its 2011 Bring Your Own Bag campaign. Check them out for great tips and information.


Comments Off on What Does Your Bag Say About You?

Reuse, the Forgotten R

Posted in Recycling, Waste Reduction by iheartcompost on September 2, 2010

We all know that there’s a great, cruical step after purchasing a product, and that is reusing it.  It definitely beats just tossing another thing into the landfill.  

Photo by Marcus Q

For the sake of clarification the definition of reuse is to lengthen the life of a product and recycle is to reprocess an item into a new material for use in a new product. Recycling materials saves us space in the landfills. Reusing a product not only does this but also increases the product’s life and saves us money.

It is as simple as donating your unwanted useable “trash” to a charity or thrift store, sharing tools with a neighbor, finding another use for that grocery sack and mending or repairing clothing or household items.  You can purchase canteen water bottle or Tupperware that can be used hundreds and hundreds of times before they have outlived their useful lives. Also try to get a few more decent uses out of that cutting board, cheese grater, hand towel or whatever it may be, before you go out and buy that new deluxe version. On an individual level, we can take big steps to extend the lives of the products we purchase.

It is important to keep in mind that waste is not just created when consumers throw items away. Throughout the production process of any product—from extraction of raw materials to transportation to processing and manufacturing facilities to manufacture and use—waste is actually generated. So reusing items like plastic bags, boxes, clothes, toys, pots, bottles, and furniture can go a long way to reducing what is in our waste stream. 

The next time you go to toss something, think, can I somehow use this again?

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