Avoid Fines: Keep Landfill & Recycling out of Compost

San Francisco’s compost collection program continues to be recognized as one of the most effective environmental protection efforts in North America, and local restaurants deserve a lot of recognition for their active participation. San Francisco’s green bin program has kept more than a million tons of compostable materials out of landfills and instead turned all those food scraps into nutrient-rich compost that goes is applied to local farms and vineyards. That saves landfill space, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and improves soil health. But San Francisco needs your help to address a challenge. We are asking all restaurant to please make sure no glass bottles get tossed in their compost collection bins. Keeping glass bottles out of your green compost bins achieves two great benefits:

  1. It helps make sure the finished compost is free of small pieces of broken glass.
  2. It helps you manage your disposal costs by preserving your diversion discount, a credit commercial customers get off their monthly bill for consistently recycling and composting more of their trash.

Why is it a problem if glass bottles get into the compost collection bin? Glass bottles break. In fact, they can shatter in the composting process. Farmers spread the finished compost between rows of vines and on other agricultural lands. To them broken glass presents a problem that should not exist. Local farmers work hard to protect their soils. Many strive to protect their designation as organic farms. Glass is made from sand. It is inert. However, it does not break down like food scraps or plant cuttings.

How do I know if my kitchen clean-up crew has tossed glass bottles in the compost bin? We recommend that restauranteurs spot check their compost bins whenever possible. Only compostable material should be placed in your green bin. Good examples include kitchen trimmings from the preparation of meals and plate scrapings, the uneaten broccoli and French fries that patrons leave behind. These are the things you want to see when you lift the lid. If you ever see glass bottles in your green bin, please talk to staff right away. Additionally, Recology drivers are trained to leave a notice on the bin handle if they see glass bottles or trash when servicing your container. Train your staff to look for cart-hanger notices and bring them to you. Customers who receive several cart hangers have a problem that needs to be corrected. Remember one our two glass bottles in a green bin can shatter and cause real challenges at the compost facility.

Is there some equipment Recology could utilize to remove broken glass from compostable materials? Unfortunately, no. A magnet will not pick up glass bottles, and workers at the compost facility cannot pick out small pieces of glass from large piles of compost.

How can we train workers to do the right thing? You can visit the Property Manager’s Lounge at RecologySF.com. There you can review and download stickers and posters that show which materials go in the blue, green, and black bins. Glass bottles should go in your blue recycling bin. You can also find articles and newsletters on the site that highlight the many ways composting helps protect the environment and you can these email articles to your employees. Knowing the information in well-written environmental articles and seeing key photos can motive employees to be more attentive to sorting correctly. Recology also employs recycling specialists who can visit your restaurant and offer suggestions and tips.

What are the best things to put in the green bin? Coffee grounds represent a particularly good material to compost. Coffee grounds are a dense, nutrient rich material that when composted feeds the microorganisms in soil. Vegetable peelings, egg shells, chicken bones, and other food scraps all add to the diversity of the feedstock San Francisco utilizes to make compost. We also accept food-soiled paper such as used paper napkins.

Other than glass, what types of materials can cause problems if tossed in the green bin? Plastics present another significant challenge. Like glass bottles, hard plastics such as plastic bottles, tubs, and molded plastic packaging should go in your blue recycling bin. A magnet cannot remove plastic from compostable material. It has to be done by hand. That is a tough and dirty job and, unfortunately, sorters are not able to remove all plastics. So we ask your help to keep them out of the green bins altogether.

Why is composting so important? Recycling keeps materials out of landfills, saves trees, and create jobs. Composting does those things and more. Composting helps farms grow healthy fruits and vegetables that support your good health. Composting helps farms save water, tremendous amounts of water. And composting improves soil health. Healthy soil contains microorganisms, tiny animals that are too small to see. The microorganisms in soil feed us. They do this by adding life to topsoil and making nutrients more available to plants. Some vineyards not use compost made from food scraps collected in San Francisco to grow cover crops, such as mustard, that pull carbon out of the atmosphere. This techniques further improves soil health and can turn farms into carbon sinks. To learn more watch the video clip Soil Solutions to Climate Problems – narrated by Michael Pollen – from the Center for Food Safety.

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