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No Flies on S.F.'s New Composting Law

by Heather Knight

San Franciscans have six more weeks before they're required to toss their food scraps into green composting bins or face a fine - but apparently all the trash talk coming out of City Hall is already having an effect.

Pamela Mazzola, chef of Boulevard, puts food scraps placed inside corn-based bags into the green compost bin for pickup. (Photo: Brant Ward / The Chronicle) Just a few months ago, the city Department of the Environment was doling out five to 10 green composting bins a day; now that number is up to 130. The amount of composted material coming out of San Francisco is up 15 percent over the past few months - now totaling 480 tons every day.

"There's a real sense of urgency now," said Jared Blumenfeld, director of the Environment Department. "We never heard from these folks and, suddenly, they're saying, 'How do you do it?' "

Each day, Blumenfeld's department sends five or six people schooled in composting to apartment buildings, homes and businesses to show people how to get started - and to help them find the space for another bin in this tightly packed city. In some particularly crowded neighborhoods like Chinatown, homeowners are already banding together to share a bin.

And eco-conscious tenants who were frustrated that their landlords didn't have composting bins on-site are now pointing to the law and getting their way, Blumenfeld said.

"It's definitely achieving the intended results - people want to make sure they're in compliance," he said of the legislation proposed by Mayor Gavin Newsom and passed by the Board of Supervisors in June.

Starting Oct. 21, every home and business in the city must have three separate color-coded bins for waste: black for trash, blue for recycling - and now green for composting. Failure to sort trash initially will result in several warnings, but ultimately could lead to fines of up to $1,000 in egregious cases.

The city's requirement - first of its kind in the nation - is part of a larger plan to have San Franciscans sending nothing to landfills or incinerators by 2020. City officials say the city currently diverts 72 percent of its waste.

San Franciscans' food scraps are trucked by the company Recology to Vacaville, where they're processed for 90 days. Then, the scraps are sold to farms, vineyards and golf courses around the region.

Kathleen Inman, owner of Olivet Grange Vineyard and Inman Family Wines in Sonoma County, said that lately she hasn't been able to buy all the composted material she needs because the facility can't produce it fast enough. She said she's excited that San Francisco will soon be producing more food scraps for her vines.

"When people come to my tasting room from San Francisco, I always ask them, 'Do you compost?' and if not, I tell them they need to," she said.

Some of San Francisco's most avid composters are restaurants. For 10 years, garbage collection companies have given price breaks to restaurants that compost. Now about 3,500 of the city's 4,200 restaurants are participating.

In a circle-of-life kind of way, Inman sells her wine to Charles Phan, owner of Slanted Door and other restaurants in the city. Phan has been composting for many years, and his restaurants' scraps may wind up fertilizing Inman's vines. Phan said his restaurants divert about 85 percent of their waste away from landfills.

Pamela Mazzola, chef at Boulevard, has been composting at her home for decades - and for several years at her restaurant. She said everyone "from the busboys up to the CEO" has been trained on sorting trash properly.

"I am the poster child for composting - that's the only time anyone ever calls me, to talk about compost or garbage," she said with a laugh.

Bob Shaffer, a composting consultant for Recology and a lifetime composter, said the city's "extreme step" is essential, even if people elsewhere in the country view it as one of those only-in-San Francisco laws.

"I really believe in this program so if they're out there on it, they're out there in the right area," he said.

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