Achieving Zero Waste requires implementation of the “3Rs” (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle)2 principle, of which Recycle, or secondary recycling, occupies an important, but not the first place.
One could argue that the potential for separate collection and recycling in San Francisco is nearly exhausted: between 2004 and 2007, the recycling rate increased by only 3% (from 67% to 70%).
Currently, San Francisco’s continued progress toward its stated goal is hampered by:
- Low landfill costs with little incentive to implement alternatives;
- an unstable market for recycled products, provoked in part by billions of dollars in budget subsidies to the extraction, recycling, or purchase of virgin natural resources;
- reduction, on the contrary, of the funding budget for recycling programs, occurring with the often recurring budget crises of the government;
- the need to recycle “problem” materials such as food waste, contaminated fiber, plastic and packaging, construction waste, carpets, car tires, and electronics.
Walking the streets of San Francisco, or probably any other city in California, it seems that recycling is one of the state’s national projects. In fact, it probably is. Recycling containers are everywhere: on ferries, in schools, in cafes, museums, and hotels. Booklets and campaign materials are published not only in English, but also in Chinese and Spanish. In schools there are whole communities for the promotion of separate waste collection, and schoolchildren themselves shoot wonderful commercials, and municipal television shows these clips.
The experience of including local low-income people in the process of sanitary cleaning of the city is very interesting. All street urns have a separate tray where you can put an empty can or bottle. Those who may be interested in these cans and bottles collect them and deliver them to collection points, receiving an established deposit value. However, there is no systematic collection of containers from trays – everything is done by unorganized collectors, thus turning from marginalized people into “freelancers” of municipalities.
In June 2007, the county municipality banned the use of disposable polystyrene utensils in catering establishments and mandated only biocompostable utensils. In December of the same year, large department stores were banned from using plastic bags.
Some time ago, the municipality planned to bill residents for the service of handling all waste generated (not just waste from the black container). At the same time for waste from the blue and green containers it was planned to provide a 93% discount on the amount of the bill. The introduction of this scheme was supposed to be primarily for educational purposes: people need to understand that waste remains so even with separate collection. But, for a number of reasons, this scheme was never implemented.
Reducing the amount of buried waste requires intervention at all stages of product design, production and use, firstly, to extend its life cycle, and secondly, to create a product suitable for reuse or recycling. This can be greatly facilitated by the introduction of liability mechanisms for product manufacturers, with the goal of shifting the cost of handling products beyond their useful life from the municipality to the municipality.
The municipality of San Francisco, and the State of California as a whole, are moving toward implementing producer responsibility for the product life cycle, but there is still a long way to go before this principle is fully implemented.
The State of California has passed a law prohibiting the dumping of electronics waste in landfills, which has led to numerous collection and recycling programs for electronics waste. The law has also forced some electronics manufacturers (such as Sony and Dell Computers) to set up collection programs for end-of-life equipment they produce. The expansion of such programs will force manufacturers to consider end-of-life recycling requirements when designing new products.
There is currently a voluntary carpet recycling program. Items such as pesticides, paints, and mercury-containing products are not allowed to be landfilled. Waste collection operators accept this waste for recycling free of charge from residents and for a fee from businesses.
Recently, the city has announced the recycling of all types of plastics (not just polyethylene and polyethylene terephthalate, the most easily recyclable). It is estimated that collecting and recycling other types of plastics will cost the municipality $1000 per ton. It is supposed to introduce a mechanism of transferring these costs to plastics producers (which will reduce the volume of their formation), but the relevant strategies have not yet been formulated.