San Francisco, Newsom Usher In Organic Composting Laws

Compost bin San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom today signed the nation's first mandatory composting policy into law. The ambitious rule will help the city achieve what are arguably the most aggressive organics waste targets in the U.S.

At the Farmer's Market in front of the San Francisco Ferry Building today, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom signed a first-of-its-kind rule requiring all residences and businesses to compost their organic waste. The tougher new composting standards were approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in early June by a vote of 9-2.

"San Francisco has the best recycling and composting programs in the nation, and we’ve already attained an impressive, and first in the nation, 72 percent rate, because of them," said Mayor Newsom.

Newsom's office recently conducted a waste-stream analysis and discovered that about two thirds of the garbage people throw away, approximately 500,000 tons annually, could have been recycled or turned to compost. San Francisco already converts over 400 tons of food scraps and other compostable discards into high-grade organic compost every day.

"It’s so nutrient-rich that the final product is almost jet black in color," writes Newsom today at CleanTechnica. The high quality of compost is "snapped up by farms and vineyards across the Bay Area, we can barely keep up with the demand," adds Newsom.

By requiring all residences and businesses in San Francisco to sign up for the city's recycling and composting collection programs, Newsom hopes even more organic waste will be diverted from landfills and made available as a valuable commodity used in sustainable regional agriculture.

compost heap City officials say they'll give residents time to adjust to the new rules but could eventually start levying fines of up to $1000 for organic waste scofflaws. No fines are specified in the ordinance, but there is a cap of $100 established for residences and businesses that generate less than one cubic yard of refuse per week. Fines higher than $100 may still apply to businesses and to landlords of large apartment buildings who refuse to offer recycling and composting opportunities to tenants.

Newsom said a primary goal of the mandatory recycling ordinance, which was co-sponsored by Supervisors Ross Mirkarimi and Chris Daly, is to get recycling and composting happening in buildings where it is not currently provided.

"I believe that composting will become second nature for Americans, just like sorting bottles and paper," added Newsom. "It will take time, but I believe mandatory composting will spread across the country—improving the air we breathe and reducing our need for landfills."


Read more great Celsias articles:

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If you see any unhelpful comments, please let us know immediately.

Christopher Mims (anonymous)

This is the best news I've heard all week.

Written in June 2009

Johnny Grant (anonymous)

I actually stood up at my monitor and applauded! Great job, SanFran, now let us hope everyone else can get on board!

Written in June 2009

Josh Sloan (anonymous)

Nothing like a sledgehammer to force people comply with your social social engineering. How about some financial incentives like the City buys the compost from you, or if you don't compost you are charged extra for trash service. Fines and penalties do not create political capital they create resentment.

Written in June 2009

John Doe (anonymous)

Right on Josh. Control control control.

Written in June 2009

Sam Alex (anonymous)

This is awesome news and hopefully more cities will follow suit.

Written in June 2009

Dr. Skeletron (anonymous)

You people in the People's Republic of Kaliforniastan really crack me up. Stood up and applauded the monitor? Really? What a bunch of nut jobs. Maybe the law should have been to get everyone's head examined.

Written in June 2009

Jello Biafra (anonymous)

Talk about "California Uber Alles."

The key to a real change in attitude is education, not legislation. It's not progress if you have no option not to choose it.

Written in June 2009

Ezekiel (anonymous)

Yeah, like people educate themselves. People are stupid and egoistic by nature. It took a financial crisis to make you Americans stop driving those ridiculous large vehicles. Maybe we need a food crisis as well, so you actually start to appreciate what u eat.

Written in June 2009

Glad Im Not In SanFran (anonymous)

I am so glad I dont live in San Fran....

Written in June 2009

TS (anonymous)

Already doin it here in Denver without the city having to force me to comply. It's a great idea, but what happens when the populace is coerced into composting without any real personal interest in doing so? I don't think I'd want my vegetables grown with compost that contains meat by-products, dairy, junk food, and who knows what else will be thrown into the pile.

Written in June 2009

James (anonymous)

This is completely asinine. Show me a landfill that's full and then get back to me. You're all falling for a scam. The space required for all the garbage in the US for the next 100 years would fit in a few square miles. Do you know how much space there is in the US? Recycling is a waste of time and money.

Written in June 2009

brody (anonymous)

Feces is compostable too, I'm honestly thinking of shitting in a bag and leaving it hanging in the bathroom next to the toilet. But hopefully I won't have to think about it and the city will make it mandatory. I can still dream can't I?

Written in June 2009

Eric in Houston (anonymous)

Congrats SF! This is the best news I've heard in a while. We're still fighting the good fight in Houston. It's amazing what little respect people have for their own planet.

Written in June 2009

Ur Choice (anonymous)

@Jello, People still have the right to choose. They chose the representatives that enacted the law, and they can choose to put their compostable garbage into one container instead of another if they are willing to pay the fine.

Personally, I keep my own and try to get as much as I can handle from others. Compost is really good sh*t.

Written in June 2009

Allen (anonymous)

Just when you think that things could not get much loonier along comes San Francisco to prove you wrong. Thank you Mr. Mayor for showing me a new level of insanity.

Written in June 2009

Caitlin Grey (anonymous)

Hi this is Caitlin Grey from Youth Radio in Oakland. We're doing a story about San Francisco's mandatory composting and we're trying to find residents of San Francisco with different views about the new mandate. Would anyone be willing to be interviewed on this topic? If you are interested please email me at or you can call Youth Radio at 510-251-1101 and ask for me (Caitlin) or Charlie, my supervisor.
Caitlin Grey (Youth Radio)

Written in October 2009

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