S.F.’s Trash-Sorting Laziness is Killing Us All

City leaders said a culture change is needed to fulfill the Zero Waste 2020 goal. SF Weekly has some tips.

Of the many obstacles in the way of composting or recycling every item of trash in the city, residents present a glaring one: According to a new report, many just don’t bother to sort their trash.

Hundreds of thousands of tons of waste fill the city’s landfills but 60 percent of that could still be recycled or compost, Department of the Environment Director Debbie Raphael told the Board of Supervisors Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee on Wednesday. Even worse, a department survey found that people knew how to sort the trash but that “it’s just too much trouble,” she said.

After the San Francisco Examiner reported that the city isn’t meeting targets for its ambitious Zero Waste 2020 goal, Supervisor Ahsha Safai called the hearing on Wednesday. He will be introducing legislation to do some course-correction but there are plenty of steps city residents can take in the meantime. Here are a few:

1. Post sorting signs in your household

Instead of uninformed housemates constantly asking one another where a greasy pizza box should go before shrugging and tossing it in the least-full bin, the signs will be there to answer questions. The Department of the Environment website is chalk full of information and tips worthy of perusing but heading there to print out their sorting signs is highly advised. Milk cartons? Blue bin. Coffee filters? Compost. Empty Hot Cheetos bag and other man-made travesties like styrofoam? It will sit in a dump forever and slowly kill us all. 

They also come with plenty of pictures that help with any language barrier.

2. Double back

Reaching back into our own trash bin is a reminder of how gross we really are, but also how bad our sorting instincts are. If your household has an asshole jar system, add missorting to the list of infractions and soak up the coins.

3. Reduce waste in the first place

Nervous that your family’s home will be consumed during California’s next fire season? The old adage of “reduce, reuse, recycle” is actually pretty key to slowing down the effects of climate change, like more of those tragic fires and other natural disasters. Try putting your lunch in reusable Tupperware, find a trusty container for your cup of joe and, above all, use as little plastic as you can. For unavoidable circumstances, like a picnic, buy compostable cutlery or paper plates and suggest compostable takeout supplies for restaurants you dine at.

4. Then reuse what you can

If you want to save the agony of choosing where to put an item, stick in your sink to wash off and store items in. Stick those leftovers in that empty tub of Chobani or store those flax seeds in a former olive jar — if you don’t mind the smell. The army of quasi-Tupperware will prove itself useful.

5. Use common sense

There’s very little that has to go in the landfill so while our first instinct is to toss, catch yourself and think again. It’s going to be a constant challenge but wasteful convenience is luxury we really, really can’t afford any longer.


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