a tee shirt made of half recycled plastic bottles and half cotton


On the first Saturday of the month in the early 80’s in Newton, Mass., I would put boxes of green, brown and clear glass into the trunk of the beige Volvo and make my way across town to the dump. Bins were located there to receive the glass. I don’t remember aluminum cans or paper.

The facilities at the dump got better over the years, but when we moved to San Francisco in 1992, there was still no curbside collection of recyclables in Newton. (Newton now has curbside pickup, they’re using the blue and green bins.)

San Francisco is recycle nirvana.

We live in a building with two flats; our landlord, John, living above us. As part of our move-in process, he explained the trash and recycling, which we combine and he pays for. At the time, we put glass and cans in blue bins to leave by the curb. Paper had to be bundled and put beside the bins. More often than not, “recycle entrepreneurs” would come ahead of the trucks and claim the aluminum cans from the open bins. They still got recycled, but the money went to the “recycle entrepreneurs” rather than the recycle company, jeopardizing the service.


About three years ago, we were given wheeled carts with hinged tops to replace the bins: brown for trash, blue for recyclable bottles, cans and paper and green for compostables. I never bothered with the compostables, too messy; besides, restaurants generate a lot, but little ol’ me? Not much.

A few weeks ago, a brown paper bag came with our Sunday Chronicle. Printed on the bag were instructions on using the bag for compostables and simply putting it in the green cart for pick-up on trash/recycle day. What the heck, I gave it a try.


I was shocked at how much we generated!

I started collecting in a food storage container, but realized I would need a much larger container for a week’s worth of scraps. Since I shop at the Farmers Market weekly, I generate a lot of “waste” — leek tops, carrot tops, etc — not to mention coffee grounds. (We eat the beet greens and turnip greens that come with the vegetables.) At the same time, I discovered that BPI certified compostable bags are now approved for use and available at local stores, so I line the larger container with a compostable bag. EZ. (The bag shown is a leaf size bag, I need to get food size bags.)

This week, I made a simple, seasonal stew of artichokes, fava beans and fresh peas. Just look at the compostables generated! In former days, those went in a plastic bag and into the trash, and into the landfill. Bad.


It’s easy, you can make it fun, and it makes you feel oh-so-good.


Just as I was ready to go to WordPress on this, the following letter appeared in the Chronicle Gardening Section:

Compost program comes full circle Saturday
By Pam Peirce

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Q: So we turn our compostables in to Sunset Scavenger — then what happens to them? Is there any way to get some compost back at a nice low price?

A: The compost produced from what we put in our green bins in San Francisco — food scraps and yard trimmings — is sold under the name FourCourse Compost. I spoke to Robert Reed of Sunset Scavenger Co., who told me that most of this compost is sold for use in about 200 vineyards. About 5 to 10 percent of it is sold to small organic farmers or to landscape supply yards where it is purchased by landscapers. None of it is bagged for sale to home gardeners.

However, once a year, some is given to San Francisco residents, and as luck would have it, the annual compost giveaway is this Saturday.

Reed told me that FourCourse compost is produced by Jepson Prairie Organics. This company and Sunset Scavenger are both wholly owned subsidiaries of Norcal Waste Systems, and are employee-owned companies. He took me on a tour of the plant. The raw materials, about 300 tons a day from San Francisco and Oakland, arrive at the plant near Vacaville in large trucks. (San Francisco’s 2,100 restaurants contribute a large part of the San Francisco materials, including everything from broccoli to fish bones, and their compostable paper waste as well.)

The huge piles of materials are screened to remove chunks more than 4 inches long, and then the bigger stuff is picked over by hand to remove plastic bottles and other nondecompostables. The two streams are reunited, ground up, and piled into windrows 10 feet across and 200 feet long, with Gore-Tex tarps on top and aeration pipes through them, until composting bacteria, through their feeding, raise the temperature to 135 degrees Fahrenheit — hot enough to kill pathogens. This takes about 30 days.

Next the tarp and air pipes are removed and the compost is cured another 30 days. The resulting compost is high in nitrogen and certified for use in organic soils by the Organic Materials Review Institute (that is, it’s OMRI listed).

To finish, it is put through a quarter-inch screen and then mixed with amendments such as redwood sawdust, lime or gypsum as needed to meet requirements of particular soils as indicated by soil tests.

Reed encourages us all to use our green bins for yard trimmings or food scraps we don’t compost ourselves. You can purchase special biodegradable plastic bags to hold food scraps, but Reed says he’d just as soon you put them in paper bags, milk cartons or other food boxes. Fold over the tops.

If you use a paper bag, put some newspaper in the bottom to absorb excess liquid. If you have any questions about what you can put in your green bin go to or call (415) 330-1300 (Sunset Scavenger) or (415) 626-4000 (Golden Gate Disposal and Recycling).

Reed said he believes that “it is absolutely essential that city dwellers send nutrients back to the farm.” He also tells me that another part of Norcal Waste Systems’ program is to put a lot of time into teaching children about recycling and composting, because, “children will have to save the world.”

Here are San Francisco’s rules, very liberal:

Residential Curbside Food & Yard Trimmings Collection

In targeted areas of San Francisco, residents are receiving (at no extra charge) a green wheeled cart for all their compostables including all food scraps, food soiled paper and yard trimmings, which is collected curbside for composting a a regional facility. This is part of the new “Fantastic Three” program – a three cart collection service which also includes a blue cart for co-mingled recyclables – bottles, cans, mixed paper, and cardboard, and a black cart for remaining trash.

City of San Francisco Encourages Additional Use of Green Carts

San Francisco’s Department of the Environment is encouraging residents and businesses to place more food scraps and yard trimmings in green collection carts. The new outreach effort is part of an environmental initiative to help San Francisco reach 75 percent recycling citywide by 2010, a goal approved by the Board of Supervisors.

“San Francisco has worked hard to build one of the best recycling programs in the country and is one of the few cities to initiate citywide collection of food scraps for composting,” said SF Environment Director Jared Blumenfeld. “It has never been easier for San Franciscans to recycle and compost at home and at work,” Blumenfeld said. The “Fantastic Three” recycling program provides color-coded carts for curbside pickup: blue for paper, bottles and cans together; green for food scraps, soiled paper products and plant trimmings; and black for trash. “It is vital for us to get out into the communities and encourage our residents to participate in these programs,” he said. “We must all work together to reduce waste.”

Food scraps, shellfish shells, meat, bones, banana peals, coffee grounds, even food-soiled paper napkins, paper milk cartons and cheesy pizza boxes can be composted through this program. Glass, plastics and liquid waste should NOT go in your green cart. Glass and plastics can break into small pieces and cause problems in the compost process.

Local restaurants help close the loop
(from food to wine)
More than 1,800 San Francisco restaurants and other food-related businesses are providing food scraps and other compostable material to San Francisco’s food scrap compost program. These food scraps are made into a nitrogen rich compost and used by vineyards in the heart of California’s wine country, including Napa, Sonoma, El Dorado and Mendocino counties. These vineyards are making delicious wines that are being sold in San Francisco’s restaurants.

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