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Garbage Sorting in San Francisco – Environmental Study Research Paper

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Updated: May 7th, 2020


Disposal of domestic and industrial waste remains one of the main challenges facing many cities in the modern United States of America. In particular, disposal of domestic waste in growing cities remains to be n area of concern and a challenge to most local authorities in growing cities. For instance, with an increase in the use of plastic products, the need to separate biodegradable from non-biodegradable waste has seen a number of local authorities implement some specific laws in order to ensure that residents take care of their waste and assist garbage collectors to manage the waste depending on its nature. John Corte’s article “S.F mayor proposes fines for unsorted trash” explains how the city of Francisco hopes to maintain a green environment through the enactment of strict environmental laws (Coete 1).

San Francisco is perhaps one of the major cities where the separation between biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste has become an area of major concern for the city, with the local authorities proposing to enact strict laws that will see residents who fail to separate between the two face fines. Under this law, garbage collectors are set to inspect the trash that residents leave for collection to make sure that pizza crusts are not mixed with plastic bags, wine bottles, and other non-biodegradable wastes.

The proposal was announced by Mayor Gavin Newsom has become a topic of debate. The purpose of this paper is to review the nature of the proposal, its intentions and the possible effect on the environment as well as on the society (Coete 1). The paper hypothesizes that the proposal to make residents be responsible for their household waste is an important step towards improving the ability to handle wastes and a step forward towards marinating a healthy environment.

Nature of the proposed garbage law in San Francisco

According to the article by John Corte, the new law in san Francisco allows garbage collectors to inspect the trash left by the city residents to make sure that plastic bags and bottles are not mixed with other types of wastes. Both businesses and residents are obliged to separate biodegradable from non-biodegradable wastes and put them in separate bags or bins for collection, which makes it easier for collectors to solve the problem of disposing of the waste. Each household and business has to obtain three separate color-coded waste bins: green for compost, blue for recycling and black for trash (Coete 1).

It also requires food vendors to supply such bins to their customers, while tenants and employees in commercial properties would have to obtain these facilities free from their managers. Garbage collectors have the responsibility of checking the bins for proper sorting, but this must only be in the form of visual inspection. Failure to do make the separation accounts for a fine of up to $1,000 and an eventual stopping of the garbage service to the defaulters (Coete 1). For the first violation, the city would have to levy a fine of $500, $750 for the second and the maximum $1000 for the third in a year (Coete 1).

If garbage collectors find evidence of violations, they will have to leave a tag on the container as identification of the problem.

Made in 2008, the proposal to enact these laws in San Francisco became America’s first mandatory recycling and law composing (Coete 1). The laws direct garbage collectors to inspect the refuse in order to make sure that each type of waste is put in the right bin. According to a draft of the legislation prepared by San Francisco department of environment, residents have to ensure that biodegradable waste is put in green bins or bags, plastic bags in blue bins while bottles and glass wastes are put in black bags (Coete 1).

According to John Corte, the program aims at limiting the number of food products and foliage that goes into the city’s main disposal site at the Alameda County (Coete 2). The author explains that the city contracted the landfill at the county to dispose of the waste, but the refuse has been taking up costly space and decomposes to produce methane, one of the main gases contributing to the greenhouse effect.

The proposed laws would help the city achieve the goal set by the Board of Supervisors seeking to divert at least 75% of the waste from the environment by 2010 and zero percent by 2020. According to the author, by 2008, San Francisco was diverting about 70% of its waste from landfills, but the method of recycling was still a major challenge.

In this article, John Corte describes the argument by Mayor Newscom that there was a need to try new things if San Francisco is to achieve a position as an excellent city. The mayor argues that even though residents are used to doing things in a certain way, it was still possible to force them to change for the better.

The city authorities point out that with the new rules, the city can be able to divert more than 90% of its waste, which would be a 22% increase in the amount of waste that is diverted through recycling (Coete 1). The authorities believed that achieving this would only take a matter of few days with the rules because people have the potential to manage their wastes but are not willing to do so because there are few rules and regulations that monitor their activities.

According to John Corte, most cities in the United States have mandatory recycling rules, especially in San Diego and Pittsburg. However, he notes that none of the cities in the United States have enacted laws to regulate the composition of good wastes. For instance, Seattle enacted a law that requires residents to possess a compost bin in their household but failed to mandate that all food wastes be disposed of there (Coete 1).

City authorities in Seattle argue that they do not intend to force residents to throw way their foodstuffs in the compost bin, but rather encouraging them to divert the food wastes from the garbage. This nature of the laws in Seattle, passed in 2003, describes its inability to fully ensure that people divert food wastes from landfills to compost bins. It also describes the inability of the laws to reduce the amount of methane and other green gases in the atmosphere.

Criticism of the law

Despite the fact that some environmental enthusiasts have attempted to show how the new rules at San Francisco will contribute to the reduction in the amount of greenhouse gases released in the atmosphere, skeptics have argued that the plan is not workable. They argue that it is one of the evidence showing how local authorities in the United States becoming increasingly authoritative and heavy-handed.

They argue that the law is a sign of intrusion into the people’s rights and privacy because the law will require garbage collectors to physically inspect the type of waste each house produce and how they dispose of it (Coete 1). Opponents argue that the law is quite similar to the other laws that tend to ban smoking or feeding pigeons in public places, all of which have an effect of intruding into the resident’s rights. Some residents have argued that the law is a sign of a new form of dictatorship that local authorities are attempting to adopt to show off their strengths.

Secondly, the company is contracted to be responsible for the city’s garbage collection and inspection of the household wastes as well as recycling was also slow in taking the enforcement because it thought that the law would reduce its service provision and that extra resources were needed to execute the regulations.

For instance, Norcal Waste Systems, which was contracted for the garbage collection and recycling, was concerned that once they sign the contract with the local authorities, it would destroy the relationship with its customers because most residents feel the law to be too authoritative (Coete 1). The company cited that it needed additional resources for data entry and information tracking if it was to enter into a contract with the local authorities.

In addition, the company argues that since their workers in the garbage collection and transportation would assume the responsibility of inspecting how residents were disposing of their wastes, additional time was required to complete the task (Coete 1). For instance, the company argues that the law requires drivers and garbage collectors to assume the role of policing the contents of the containers and possibly withhold service if they find evidence of violations.

This means that there will be an increase in the time required to provide services to each customer. In addition, it means that the company will need to have additional routes for garbage collection. The final impact is that the company will need additional trucks, drivers, fuel and other resources in order to accomplish the task.

Works Cited

Corte, John. S. F. ‘Mayor proposes fines for unsorted trash’. San Francisco Chronicle 2008.

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