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Issues & Insights

The Old City Dumps Aren’t What They Used To Be

Michelle Arseneault

Editor’s note: This has been excerpted with permission from the Pacific Research Institute. To read the entire report, click here.

Nearly two decades ago, before “ban everything” fever was sweeping through California, San Francisco committed to eliminating a staple of human progress: the modern landfill.

The idea, concocted in 2002, was to reach a “zero waste” existence by 2020, which “means that we send zero discards to the landfill or high-temperature destruction,” says the San Francisco Department of the Environment.

“The city and county of San Francisco believes achieving zero waste is possible.”

An environmental code was developed in 2003, then six years later the Mandatory Recycling and Composting Ordinance, which requires everyone in the city to separate recyclables, compostables, and landfill garbage, was passed. Noncompliance is a finable offense.

In addition to mandatory recycling and composting, San Francisco also requires “any site that generates more than 40 cubic yards of waste per week to complete waste audits every three years,” says Waste Dive. Those that fail are “required to hire on-site facilitators at their own expense for one year.” More than 400 sites are subject to the reviews, as well as the $1,000-per-day fines that can be levied on those not meeting the standard.

Despite the efforts and expectations, Politico reported last month that San Francisco is “nowhere close to that goal.” After falling for years, the amount of garbage being sent to landfills has been growing, even as officials have tried to push residents into generating less waste by cutting the size of curbside containers by half, from 32 gallons to 16.

Given the costs and added labor required, why even pursue “zero waste”? Are there practical reasons to eliminate landfill use?

Not according to author and journalist John Tierney.

To continue reading, click here.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.


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Issues & Insights is a new site formed by the seasoned journalists behind the legendary IBD Editorials page. Our goal is to bring our decades of combined journalism experience to help readers understand the top issues of the day. We’re doing this on a voluntary basis, because we believe the nation needs the kind of cogent, rational, data-driven, fact-based commentary that we can provide. 

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