San Francisco has some of the most progressive recycling regulations in the country. Initially the city utilized voluntary programs for several decades, which were designed around convenience and financial incentives. The transition from voluntary to mandated was spurred by a recognition in the 2000s that 36 percent of what the county sent to landfills was compostable (mostly food scraps) and 31 percent was recyclable (mostly paper). Finding this to be unacceptable, San Francisco set the goal of achieving 75 percent diversion from landfill by 2010 and zero waste by 2020. To achieve this ambitious aim, the Bay Area passed an ordinance in June 2009 requiring all city residents and institutions to separate food scraps, recyclable material, and trash into three separate curbside containers.
When organics collection began in October 2009, the San Francisco Department of Environment emphasized making the effort to educate first, and even self-imposed a moratorium on its own ability to apply fines to noncompliant parties until 2011. Due to the choices for both a leniency period and to conduct outreach tailored to local conditions, residents have had time to adjust to the policy and adopt the habit. If, after a process of education and warnings, noncompliant parties continue to improperly source separate materials, fines can be applied. As of 2016, fines remain at their 2009 level: $100 for small businesses and single occupancy homes and up to $1,000 for large businesses or multi-unit buildings.
Jack Macy of the San Francisco Dept. of Environment notes that compliance is high and incidence of fining is low. The City is thus able to divert about 220,000 tons of food and yard waste annually. In fiscal year 2019-2020, Recology, the city’s service provider, reported diverting 126,425 tons of compostables, which was 79 percent of the compostable material received during that reporting period. Once converted to compost, the product is marketed by Recology to nearby farms.
As of July 1, 2019, the Refuse Separation Compliance Ordinance requires an audit of Large Refuse Generators every 3 years to ensure compliance of source-separation between compostables, recyclables, and trash, and, in the case of audit failure, to hire a “Zero Waste Facilitator” to ensure adequate separation of refuse.
The demonstrated success of San Francisco’s municipal composting program was no doubt one factor motivating the state of California to pass new laws in 2014, one of which require all commercial generators of organic waste to recycle those materials.
- SF Dept. of Environment webpage on Recycling and Composting in San Francisco
- San Francisco’s Mandatory Recycling and Composting Ordinance (PDF) [SF Ordinance 100-09] – as part of the SF Environment Code
- FAQs about the Mandatory Recycling & Composting Ordinance
- Sunset Scavenger and Golden Gate Recycling & Disposal – providing services and education about the program
Excerpt: SEC. 1902. – DEFINITIONS.
For the purposes of this Chapter, the following words have the following meanings:
(a) “Adequate Refuse Collection Service” means that a dwelling or commercial property is serviced by a Collector for recyclables, compostables, and trash, and that the level of service is sufficient to contain the refuse generated at that dwelling or commercial property.
[…] (g) “Compostable” means any material that can be broken down into, or otherwise become part of, usable compost (e.g., soil-conditioning material) in a safe and timely manner as accepted in San Francisco’s compostables collection program, such as food scraps, soiled paper and plant trimmings. Compostable materials can also include disposable plastic food service ware and bags if labeled “Compostable”, in accordance with the Food Service Waste Reduction Ordinance (No. 295-06) and Department of the Environment regulations for easy identification, meeting the ASTM Standard Specification (D6400) for compostable plastics, and consistent with State labeling law (California Public Resources Code Section 42359) that any plastic bag or food container labeled “Compostable” must meet the ASTM Standard Specification for compostable plastics.
[…] (m) “Disposable Food Service Ware” means all containers, bowls, plates, trays, carton, cups, lids, straws, forks, spoons, knives, napkins and other items that are designed for one-time use for serving food.
[…] (v) “Recyclable” means any material that can be sorted and reconstituted, for the purpose of using the altered form in the manufacture of a new product, as accepted in San Francisco’s recycling collection program, such as paper, bottles and cans. Recycling does not include burning, incinerating, converting, or otherwise thermally destroying solid waste.
(w) “Refuse” has the meaning set forth in the Refuse Collection and Disposal Ordinance adopted November 8, 1932, as amended, and includes recyclables, compostables, and trash, but not construction and demolition debris or hazardous waste, all as defined in this Chapter.
(x) “Source Separate” means to divide refuse at the place of discard generation, prior to collection, into separate containers that are designated for recyclables, compostables or trash.
SEC. 1903. – SOURCE SEPARATION OF REFUSE REQUIRED.
All persons in San Francisco must source separate their refuse into recyclables, compostables and trash, and place each type of refuse in a separate container designated for disposal of that type of refuse. No person may mix recyclables, compostables or trash, or deposit refuse of one type in a collection container designated for another type of refuse, except as otherwise provided in this Chapter.
SEC. 1904. – REQUIREMENTS FOR OWNERS OR MANAGERS OF MULTIFAMILY AND COMMERCIAL PROPERTIES.
(a) Owners or managers of multifamily or commercial properties must provide Adequate Refuse Collection Service to the tenants, employees, contractors, and customers of the properties.
(b) Owners or managers of multifamily or commercial properties must supply appropriate containers, placed in an appropriate location, to make source separation of refuse convenient for the tenants, employees, contractors, and customers of the properties. The containers must:
(1) Be of appropriate number and size in light of the recyclable, compostable, and trash quantities reasonably anticipated to be generated at the location;
(2) Bear appropriate signage and be color coded to identify the type of refuse to be contained—blue for recyclables, green for compostables, and black for trash—and meet any additional design criteria established by the Department by regulation; and,
(3) Be placed as close together as possible, to provide equally convenient access to users.
(c) Owners or managers of multifamily or commercial properties must provide information and/or training for new tenants, employees and contractors, including janitors on how to source separate recyclables, compostables and trash, and must re-educate existingtenants, employees and contractors at least once a year.
(d) Owners and managers of commercial properties or their contractors will work with on-site janitors to create effective source separation programs as a means of achieving compliance, meeting citywide diversion goals, and achieving the diversion or disposal rate reported annually to the State of California.
(e) New construction or expansion of multifamily or commercial properties may be subject to Department of Building Inspection requirements, such as Administrative Bulletin 088 and Building Code Chapter 13, Section 1304C, to provide adequate space for recyclables and compostables, which includes requiring any chute systems to keep compostables, recyclables and trash separate.
SEC. 1905. – REQUIREMENTS FOR OWNERS OR MANAGERS OF FOOD VENDORS AND EVENTS.
(a) Owners or managers of food vendors and events must provide Adequate Refuse Collection Service to their employees, contractors and customers.
(b) Owners or managers of food vendors and events must supply appropriate containers, placed in appropriate locations, to make source separation of recyclables, compostables, and trash convenient for the employees, contractors, and customers of the food vendors and events. The containers must:
(1) Be of appropriate number and size in light of the recyclable, compostable, and trash quantities reasonably anticipated to be generated at the location;
(2) Bear appropriate signage and be color coded to identify the type of refuse to be deposited—blue for recyclables, green for compostables, and black for trash—and meet any additional design criteria established by the Department by regulation; and,
(3) Be placed as close together as possible to provide equally convenient access to users.
(c) Owners or managers of food vendors and events must provide information and/or training for new tenants, employees, and contractors, including janitors on how to source separate recyclables, compostables, and trash, and must re-educate existing tenants, employees, and contractors at least once a year.
(d) Food vendors that provide disposable food ware must have at least one container each for recyclables, compostables and trash for use by customers and visitors, placed inside near a main exit, unless that food vendor does not use disposable food ware for on-site consumption and serves minimal to go orders per day, but not including any to go orders delivered to residentsby a delivery service. Food vendors meeting the requirements of this Section are exempt from the requirement of Public WorksCode Section 173 to place “a litter receptacle outside each exit.” Multiple food vendors that provide disposable food service ware and share a common eating area may share an appropriate number, size, and placement of containers for recyclables, compostablesand trash for convenient use by customers or visitors.
(e) Food vendors and events must not put any fats, oils or grease in trash collection containers.
SEC. 1906. – REQUIREMENTS FOR REFUSE COLLECTORS, TRANSFER STATIONS, AND PROCESSING FACILITIES.
(a) All collectors must appropriately designate the collection containers they provide to customers for source separation of recyclables, compostables and trash. The containers must:
(1) Bear appropriate signage that allows users to clearly and easily identify which containers to use for recyclables, compostables or trash;
(2) Be color-coded—blue for recyclables, green for compostables and black for trash; and,
(3) Bear the name of the collector to whom the container belongs.
(b) (1) If a collector finds materials that are not the correct type as designated for that container, such as recyclables or compostables in a trash container, or trash in a compostables or recyclables container, the collector then must leave a tag on the container identifying the incorrect materials.
(2) If the collector continues to find incorrect materials in a collection container after the collector has left a previous tag for that customer and that type of container, the collector must leave another tag on the container identifying the incorrect materials and send a written notice to the person who subscribes for that collection service.
(3) If the collector continues to find incorrect materials in a collection container after the collector has already left two or more tags for that customer and that type of container, the collector may refuse to empty the container, subject to California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 17331, or as determined by the Director of Public Health or his or her designee. If the container is not emptied, the collector must leave a tag and send a written notice to the person who subscribers for the collection service, identifying the incorrect materials and describing what action must be taken for the materials to be collected; provided, however, that a collector may not refuse on this basis to empty containers from multifamily or commercial properties with multiple tenants and joint account collection service.
(4) The collector shall, upon request, provide to the Director a list of the names and addresses of those persons who have received tags or notices or whose containers have not been emptied due to non-compliance with this Chapter, or copies of the tags or notices issued by the collector. The collector shall also provide to the Director, upon request, a list of the names, addresses, and service levels of the collector’s customers and any additional information required by the Director.
(c) Within 90 days of the end of each calendar year, each collector must submit to the Department, on a form specified by the Director, an annual report of all tons collected by material type and to whom the material was sent.
(d) No person may deliver recyclables or compostables, including those mixed with trash, to a landfill or transfer station for the purpose of having those materials landfilled, except as follows:
(1) A collector may drop off recyclables or compostables at the San Francisco transfer station for landfill if the transfer station has agreed to provide to the Director, upon request, audits of collection vehicles for a specified period going forward in time. The transfer station’s audit shall report the quantity of recyclables or compostables, stated as estimated tons per load or as a percentage of the loads, deposited at the transfer station by collection vehicles specifically identified in the request over a reasonable period of time occurring after the request.
(2) A processing facility that sorts and reconstitutes recyclables for the purpose of using the altered form in the manufacture of a new product or turns compostables into usable and marketable compost (e.g., soil-conditioning) material may send to a landfill a minor portion of those materials that constitutes unmarketable processing residuals, if the processing facility provides to the Director, upon request, audits of specific collection vehicles for a specific period going forward in time, of the quantities of recyclables or compostables sent to the landfill from the processing facility.
(e) No person may deliver trash from the city, including trash mixed with recyclables or compostables, to a processing facility, unless the processing facility has agreed to provide to the Director, upon request, audits of collection vehicles for a specifiedperiod going forward in time. The processing facility’s audit shall report the quantity of trash, stated as estimated tonsper load or as a percentage of the loads, deposited at the processing facility by collection vehicles specifically identified in the request over a reasonable period of time occurring after the request.
SEC. 1907. – REQUIREMENT TO SUBSCRIBE TO REFUSE COLLECTION SERVICE.
Owners of residential, multifamily or commercial properties, events or other facilities that generate refuse must subscribeto and pay for Adequate Refuse Collection Service, and provide an accessible location for sufficient levels of service with collector(s) for source separated recyclables, compostables and trash, except as otherwise provided in this Chapter. Ownersof such properties are responsible for any failure to subscribe to or pay for sufficient levels of refuse collection service. The Director of Public Health, pursuant to Health Code Article 6, as amended, shall enforce requirements for adequate and continuous refuse collections services.
SEC. 1908. – ENFORCEMENT.
(a) The Director and his or her designee may administer all provisions of this Chapter and enforce those provisions by any lawful means available for such purpose, except as otherwise provided in this Chapter.
(b) To the extent permitted by law, the Director may inspect any collection container, collection vehicle load, or receiving facility for collected trash, recyclables or compostables.
(c) Except as otherwise provided in this Chapter, the Director of the Department of Public Health or his or her designee may impose administrative fines for violations of those provisions of this Chapter, or of rules and regulations adopted pursuant to this Chapter, that pertain to the jurisdiction of the Department of Public Health.
(d) Except as otherwise provided in this Chapter, the Director of Public Works or his or her designee may impose administrative fines for violations of those provisions of this Chapter, or of any rule or regulation adopted pursuant to this Chapter, that pertain to the jurisdiction of the Department of Public Works.
(e) San Francisco Administrative Code Chapter 100, “Procedures Governing the Imposition of Administrative Fines,” as amended, is hereby incorporated in its entirety and shall govern the imposition, enforcement, collection, and review of administrative citations issued to enforce this Chapter and any rule or regulation adopted pursuant to this Chapter; provided, however, that:
(1) The Director of Public Works or the Director of Public Health may adopt regulations providing for lesser penalty amounts than those provided in Administrative Code Section 100.5;
(2) The fine for any violation at a dwelling or commercial property that generates less than one cubic yard of refuse per week may not initially exceed $100; and,
(3) No person who is the owner, tenant, manager, employee, contractor, or visitor of a multifamily or of a multi-tenant commercial property shall be subject to fines or penalties for violation of Section 1903 (but will remain subject to such enforcement for violations of section 1904 and other sections of the Ordinance), unless and until the Director of the Department of the Environment has adopted specific regulations setting out the liability of such persons. The Director shall not adopt such regulations prior to July 1, 2011.
(f) The City shall use administrative penalties collected under this Chapter, including recovery of enforcement costs, to fund implementation and enforcement of this Chapter. Remedies under this Chapter are in addition to and do not supersede or limitany and all other remedies, civil or criminal.
SEC. 1910. – EXCEPTIONS
(a) A property owner or manager may seek a waiver from the Director of all or portions of this Chapter, if the applicant submits documentation, using a form specified by the Director and including a signed affidavit under penalty of perjury, that shows that the property does not have adequate storage space for containers for recyclables, compostables or trash. In cases where after on-site verification space limitations are determined to exist, the Director shall evaluate the feasibility of sharingcontainers for recyclables, compostables or trash with contiguous properties, and, where feasible, requiring container sharing in lieu of providing a waiver.
(b) Except as otherwise required by the Director, a collector may drop-off compostables or recyclables at the San Francisco transfer station that have been collected from public trash containers. The Director may require public trash containers to have a recyclables receptacle attached.
 S.F. Department of the Environment (SFDE). “Mandatory Recycling and Composting – Ordinance No, 100-09.” City and County of San Francisco, June 9, 2009. [PDF]  Ibid, p. 14
 C40 Blog. “Expert Voices: Melanie Nutter, Director of San Francisco Department of the Environment.” Post series on Siemens City Climate Leadership Awards from C40 Cities Blog, November 21, 2013. [link]  S.F. Department of the Environment (SFDE). n.d. “Zero Waste FAQ.” SF Environment Website. [link]  Katz, Cheryl. “Leading San Francisco’s Quest To Recycle All Trash by 2020.” Interview with Jack Macy, Yale Environment 360 Blog, May 22, 2014. [link]  Layzer, Judith A. and Alexis Schulman. 2014. “Municipal Curbside Compostables Collection: What Works and Why?” Work product of the Urban Sustainability Assessment (USA) Project, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. [PDF]  Recology. March 5, 2021. “San Francisco Annual Rate Report, Rate Year Ending June 30, 2020.” San Francisco Public Works. [link]
Original post from July 30, 2012
Updated July 21, 2021