San Francisco’s Recycling Rigors

Courtesy of SF Environment
“Recycle Everything” Icons
Courtesy of SF Environment

Supporters of zero waste and other aggressive recycling programs recently lauded San Francisco for achieving the highest recycling rate in the United States – diverting 80% of its waste from the landfill, according to an article in Triple Pundit, a website promoting socially responsible business culture.

According to the article, San Francisco has achieved this level of waste diversion via far-reaching and comprehensive recycling mandates on every sector of its community, included retailers, residents, businesses, and landlords. For example, according to the article, San Francisco law requires:

  • mandatory recycling and composting for commercial businesses that generate four or more cubic yards of waste a week
  • mandatory recycling and composting for multifamily dwellings with five or more units
  • every event held in San Francisco to offer recycling and composting at the event
  • maximum recycling and reuse of construction and demolition (C&D) debris material
  • a complete ban on non-compostable plastic bags for all groceries and retail establishments

SF Environment, San Francisco’s department of environment, provides the following notice to San Franciscans,

Property owners, business managers, food establishments and all San Francisco businesses:
  • You are required to provide color-coded, labeled containers in convenient locations: blue for recycling, green for composting, and black for trash.
  • You must also educate tenants, employees, contractors, and janitors on what goes in each container.
  • Food vendors that provide disposable food service ware or to-go containers must have blue, green, and black containers for use by customers and visitors, placed inside near a main exit.

San Francisco’s recycling laws are not only broad and expansive, they also plumb the depths — there are more materials included in San Francisco’s recyclables than any other U.S. city, according to the article.  The business expense of “black bins,” materials going to the landfill, which is greater than the expense of hauling recycling creates an incentive for recycling, according to the city’s governing authority, SF Environment.

A fact sheet from SF Environment details compliance measures to back up the mandatory recycling program:


Residents and businesses are required to subscribe for adequate trash, recycling and composting service. We strive mainly to educate and assist. Fines may be given only in cases of blatant on-going non-compliance.

For more information, see the full story from Triple Pundit or San Francisco’s Mandatory Recycling and Composting Ordinance.