Thinking Tech

San Francisco, a model for recycling

San Francisco, a model for recycling

Posting in Cities

San Francisco recycles 72 per cent of waste. As a nation, we recycle 9 per cent of our plastic bottles. Where's the disconnect?

I was watching a ballgame at Boston's Fenway Park this summer when the jumbo-tron flashed a disheartening statistic: only nine per cent of the nation's plastic bottles are recycled. The low number both trivialized the  recycling I've been doing for more than 20 years and at the same time made my efforts seem  more important. I even recycle my metal Altoids containers!

Plastics bottles overload landfills, pollute highway roadsides and when incinerated destroy a non-renewable resource, that is, petroleum used to make plastic resins. That San Francisco recycles 72 per cent of its waste is astounding.

Rooftop solar potential integrated into Google maps

A recent backlash against spring water in plastic bottles has subsided as we get germo-phobia trying to dodge the H1NI flu. Sterlized vessels carry a legitimate purpose in curbing the spread of germs that can be picked up from reuseable water bottles, glasses and public drinking fountains.

So recycling becomes all the more important.

SF's aggressive goal of producing zero landfill waste by 2020 is terrific. That includes 490 tons of daily food scraps converted into compost. We have a highly controversial landfill in an adjacent town where construction waste  has emitted noxious fumes for years and made abutters physically ill not to mention sick from plummeting real estate values.

What San Francisco and  other top green cities (Portland, Ore is first, S.F. and my dear Boston third) show that vast majority of efforts are local. As SF director of Dept of the environment Jared Blumenthal points out in the video below, (shorten the title, please!) recycling is about changing behavior.

That means recycling is up to every trash-producing person. Certainly, the feds can educate and provides incentives to recycle, but it is ultimately the civic duty of every individual, town and state. That means you, neighbor as in New Hampshire with your "Live Free or Die" motto apparently interpreted to mean bottles deposits are some form of tyranny (a bill reversing that position is being considered).

Also shown in the video is Google Maps displaying rooftop solar potential for each address in SF. The application is very forward-thinking. Blumenthal mentions the solar data is accompanied by contact information for a solar panel installers. I can't even get one to call me back here in the Boston area.

In case you're wondering where plastic bottles go after you leave them at the curb, the Christian Science Monitor did an excellent piece on the subject in 2005.

Follow me on Twitter.

[video=354437-SP]

Share this

John Dodge

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor John Dodge has written for the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, PC Week (now eWeek), EDN, Design News, Electronic Business, Bio-IT World, Health-IT World, Lowell Sun, Haverhill Gazette and Newburyport Daily News. He is based in Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure