San Francisco aims to be a recycling leader

| June 24, 2014

What will you be doing in the year 3014?

(Hint: probably nothing, at least not in the conventional sense. Sorry. We’re all living longer these days, but 1,000 years is a stretch, even if you eat apples every day.)

That water bottle you just threw away, however, will still be languishing in a landfill somewhere.

That’s a scary thought, isn’t it? David Chiu serves as president of the board of supervisors in San Francisco, and he wants you to be scared by that thought. “There are incredible, enormous environmental costs of plastic water bottles,” he says. Indeed, one of those costs is the sheer volume of time that it takes for a typical plastic bottle to biodegrade.

san francisco

San Francisco has set some ambitious recycling goals. From Michael Caven.

We have to agree: when you’re measuring biodegradability in millennia instead of months or years, something’s wrong.

Chiu and his team are determined to do something about it. They’ve introduced a measure that would ban the distribution or sale of small plastic water bottles in public spaces throughout the city of San Francisco, with the exception of major public events (such as Gay Pride).

If that legislation leaves you feeling a bit parched, don’t worry — the city would compensate by installing more drinking fountains in public and allowing compostable cups to be distributed at public events.

This popular piece of legislation is already dramatic, but it’s simply a stepping stone to what Chiu’s team is ultimately working toward: an overall ban on plastic water bottles.

If any city can do it, it’s San Francisco. San Francisco has proven to be a major leader in pro-environment policy. They’ve already set an ambitious goal: by the year 2020, they want to completely “eliminate waste that is neither recycled nor composted.” That would entirely eliminate the need for landfills.

If that sounds far-fetched, you might be underestimating San Francisco. When they introduced the 2020 plan in 2002, they were coming off a year in which only 42 percent of their waste was recycled. They set an interim goal of 75 percent by 2010. And they did it. They actually hit 77 percent that year, and they’ve since topped 80 percent.

So will they make it to 100? “The last mile is always the hardest,” notes Alexandre Pouchard, whose story about San Francisco’s efforts appeared in The Guardian. And yet, they have good motivation to continue. In addition to the momentum they’ve already built up, the extraordinarily public nature of San Francisco’s goal serves as an incentive to succeed. Officials in other cities around the nation are watching San Francisco with keen interest. Indeed, the effect is already evident: Seattle now has the same 100% waste diversion goal, and Minneapolis just jumped on board as well.

If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go get a drink of water. From the tap. In a reusable cup.

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Category: Blog Landing Page, Recycling programs

About the Author ()

Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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