How San Francisco Is Becoming A Zero Waste City


LAURA LING: Did you know
that the urban waste produced from cities around the
world is enough to fill a line of garbage
trucks stretching more than 3,100 miles? That’s a distance from Florida
to Washington, every day. And things are only
expected to get worse. Thankfully, some cities
such as San Francisco are paving the way
and trying to change the way we think about trash. San Francisco plans
to become zero waste by 2020, which is a pretty
ambitious but awesome goal. And this is the
main nerve center for all of the
city’s recyclables. This is where everything ends
up to be sorted and processed. What is zero waste? ROBERT REED: It’s
an idea, and it means sending next to nothing
to landfills or incinerators. LAURA LING: In 2009,
the city passed a law requiring
residents and businesses to sort their waste into
recyclables, compostables, and landfill trash. Recology is the private
company that handles it all. ROBERT REED: When I started
at Recology 23 years ago, the recycling rate
was around 38%. Today we’ve more
than doubled that. LAURA LING: So
far, San Francisco has diverted 80% of its
waste away from landfills, and its success has been
getting global attention. Government representatives
from all over the world visit this facility
to learn about how they might be able to replicate
what’s being done here. What is the current method of
waste management or recycling in your town? DANIEL ANDERSEN: What we
have a lot of in Denmark is actually incineration,
where you will burn the waste. LAURA LING: Do you think
that you might implement some of what you’ve learned here? DANIEL ANDERSEN: One thing
that we have heard about is the value of composting. We don’t do that a lot. So maybe we will go home
and do more composting. LAURA LING: San
Francisco now collects 650 tons of food
scraps, yard trimmings, and other organic
waste every day. That material is brought here
to be turned into compost. ROBERT REED: This is one of
the most modern composting facilities in North America. LAURA LING: OK, so you
can see a bunch of stuff here that people
have thrown away. Mostly like wood here. A shoe, this flip-flop. ROBERT REED: Yeah. LAURA LING: What’s
up with shoes? [LAUGHTER] ROBERT REED: Well, there’s seven
billion people on the planet, so there’s a lot of shoes. We’re in a culture
here in California where people are
moving very quickly, and so people make mistakes. So we get the
things that are not supposed to be here, we get
them removed right away, right at the beginning. LAURA LING: After the
waste is ground up and screened for plastic
and other bits of trash, the organic matter left over
gets watered and aerated. A piping system then filters
out dangerous greenhouse gases produced by microbes. In about 60 days, the
compost is complete and sold to local organic
farmers and vineyards. How does composting
help the environment? ROBERT REED: Composting keeps
materials out of landfills, it returns nutrients
to farms, it reduces the production of
very potent greenhouse gases, it attracts and retains
water, like rainwater. LAURA LING: I mean,
it smells like hell. But it’s actually
very beautiful, what you’re describing here. You know, people’s food scraps,
which might otherwise be waste, comes here to essentially
feed these farms and produce new crops. ROBERT REED: Well,
from this facility, more than 300 vineyards
have received the compost and applied it to
their vineyards. Farmers are using the compost
to grow cover crops that pull carbon out
of the atmosphere and return carbon
back to the soil. This is one of the best
things we can do in an effort to slow down climate change. People have really heard a lot
about environmental problems. They want to hear now a lot more
about environmental solutions. LAURA LING: How much
recycling and composting is there in your town? Let us know in the
comments below. And be sure to watch
this next episode about a woman who already
lives a zero-waste lifestyle. LAUREN SINGER: Two years of
trash in this tiny little jar. My values are having a really
low environmental impact. I have to live like I want
that, and so that’s why I decided to change my lifestyle. LAURA LING: Thanks for
watching, and please subscribe to “Seeker Stories”
to see new videos every week.

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