Nate Silver's swell number-crunching blog FiveThirtyEight just did an exposé of sorts about San Francisco's long-held status as the nation's mecca for trash diversion specifically the oft-cited figure that, as a city, we successfully began diverting 80 percent of our waste to recycling and compost as of 2010. We remain ahead of most cities in the nation when it comes to this, and we're one of the only ones with a citywide composting program, yet the amount of waste that S.F. sent to landfills in 2013 was about 6 percent higher than the year previous at 456,764 tons, ending 12 straight years of consistent declines in this number.
This could be explainable because of the major population boom we've experienced that's yet to be precisely quantified it's thought to be somewhere in the vicinity of 30,000 to 40,000 new people since 2010. But it's also likely that amidst this glut of new residents we have some people who don't really know their way around the green and blue bins I have some new-transplant neighbors who regularly throw clothing and other misguided items into the recycling, and they don't even bother with the compost.
The biggest thing in the new piece is that FiveThirtyEight gets the city’s zero waste manager Robert Haley on the record saying that the announced goal of sending zero trash to landfills by 2020 is probably not realistic, but "we want to get as close as we can to that."
Also, that 80-percent diversion figure is kind of a PR trick San Francisco counts construction waste like rock and crushed concrete in that figure, bumping up the number above what most cities who don't count that stuff can claim. If you don't count construction waste, S.F.'s diversion rate is more like 60 percent, according to Samantha McBride, an assistant professor at New York's Baruch College School of Public Affairs. The SF Bay Guardian has also gone after the city's waste management company, Recology, noting that the 80 percent figure was fudged, and that other figures have been fudged as well in order to win the company some incentive payments totaling $1.36 million.
Also interesting: There's an explanation of how exactly the composting process works at Recology's Vacaville plant.
We're fast on our way to playing second fiddle to Seattle or Portland in the recycling game if we don't turn things around. So educate your neighbors! Get annoying about composting! Or don't if you prefer not to embarrass yourself.