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- November 10, 2010BY MARK DREGER
Just because you can recycle it, doesn't mean you should be using it
San Francisco is successful at many things, but there is one place where we shine above all other cities in the country – our recycling and compost programs. San Francisco was the first major city in the U.S. to implement a citywide curbside composting program open to all residents and businesses. Almost a decade after the program's initial roll-out, alongside an ever-expanding recycling program, San Francisco now boasts the highest waste diversion rate in the country – 77% in 2010. This whopping figure exceeded even our own goals for the year, and we’re on track to keep improving next year. (See SPUR's Urbanist article "Toward zero waste" here.) The cooperation of both Recology (San Francisco's waste management company) and the City has created a gold standard for waste management -- one that Cities around the world are eager to learn from and emulate.
SPUR toured Recycle Central last month, providing members with an insider's view of this visionary program. Recycle Central is Recology's state-of-the-art sorting facility located at Pier 96 along San Francisco's eastern waterfront. Collection trucks endlessly file in, dumping 750 tons of their commingled recyclables on the industrial concrete floor every day. Large bulldozers then take the recycled material and load it into machinery, which (alongside the admirably hard work of sorters) separates the material into numerous commodities. These sorted materials are then sent all around the United States and the world. Glass gets remade into bottles in the East Bay, aluminum goes by rail to Tennessee to be remade into cans, paper bales head to mills in the Northwest U.S., plastic is shipped to China. These materials are certainly put to much better use than if they had been sent to landfill.
One of the San Francisco recycling program's biggest strengths is that it accepts almost anything that could potentially be recycled. You name it: plastic clamshell take-out containers, coffee cup lids, kid's meal toys, and even CDs and DVDs (including the cases). This is all in addition to the standard items that we typically think of as recyclables: an aluminum can may be reformed many times without the addition of new materials; glass can be reformed into new glass bottles and be back on the shelf with new liquids within six weeks; markets exist for recycled paper, particularly white office paper. Recycling aluminum, glass and paper helps pay for the cost of providing San Francisco's recycling program
Towards the end of the tour while we discussed the various items that one can place in the blue bin, it became clear that Recology ironically does not want many of the materials they accept. Despite the fact that the vast majority of coffee cups and plastic toys do not get properly sorted make into people’s blue bins, these materials are extremely cheap in quality and do not make a good sell to material buyers. Essentially, nobody wants old CDs and DVDs – Recology just accepts them and tries to recycle them because doing so helps San Francisco make progress toward zero waste, a goal set by the Board of Supervisors. Recycling materials that have market value won't pay all the costs associated with collecting, sorting and shipping recyclables, but doing so helps offset some of these costs. But when we are talking about low-quality plastics, what the recycling industry calls "junk plastic," we are not talking about valued material; often the best we can hope for is a new park bench. So we as consumers should avoid purchasing or accepting junk plastic.
The point here is that just because you can recycle something, does not mean that you should be using the product. For many materials, recycling is not the solution – the solution is avoiding using the product altogether and looking for alternatives. Instead of a single-use coffee cup, buy a reusable stainless steel one. Decline taking a plastic bag—which often may have a usable life measured in minutes, and cannot be recycled— and bring a tote. I can guarantee the workers that spend upwards of five hours each day cutting away plastic bags of that gum up Recycle Central’s sorting machinery will thank you. This all makes perfect sense when you consider the mantra: "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle." Recycling should be the last priority. We can have the most state-of-the-art recycling system in place, but some materials are just not good, and clearly should be left out of the waste stream – especially if we would like to reach our goal of zero waste.
[Photo Credit: All photos by Colleen McHugh]
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- July 22, 2010BY FABIANA MEACHAM
The Dogpatch may already be on everyone's radar as a neighborhood on the rise (see last year's New York Times "Surfacing" feature), but touring the area's artisan manufacturers lends a much more tangible element to all the hype. This former shipbuilding center has attracted a new wave of craftsmen, producing everything from messenger bags to chocolates to modern backyard cabanas. SFMade's Kate Sofis led us through the Dogpatch's flourishing manufacturing community, providing expertise on all things locally made.
Rickshaw Bags' Dogpatch headquarters [Photo Credit: Colleen McHugh]
Designed and made onsite in the Dogpatch, Rickshaw Bags' customizable products have a fast production turnover, moving from design phase to market in a matter of weeks — just one of the benefits of manufacturing locally.
Nick Damner showcases his Modern Cabana [Photo Credit: Colleen McHugh]
Modern Cabana's backyard cabins represent the fruitful partnership of an architect and general contractor: sleek, efficient structures designed to help San Franciscans maximize their limited space. Starting at 100 square feet (the largest accessory structure permitted by the building code without a permit in San Francisco), these structures can be built and installed within one week.
The Recchiuti chocolate factory [Photo Credit: Colleen McHugh]
Opening one of many dull grey doors in a vast hallway of the American Industrial Center, Michael Recchiuti led us into his chocolate factory, Recchiuti Confections. I don't know if it was the chocolate waterfall, cookie cooling tunnel or all the talk of "copulating" flavors, but I found myself wanting to pull an Augustus Gloop and jump right in there. Fortunately for everyone else, chocolate cravings were satiated before any serious contamination occurred.
Michael Recchiuti knows how to treat his customers [Photo Credit: Colleen McHugh]
- July 16, 2010BY FABIANA MEACHAM
Last week's Parks and Parklets tour led a group of enthusiastic urbanists to three of the city's parklets — miniature parks built on roadway and parking spaces reclaimed for the pedestrian realm.
Divisadero: We kicked off our tour at the Divisadero Street parklet in front of Mojo Bicycle CafÃ©. CafÃ© patrons sipped coffee and admired their gleaming two-wheelers as Great Streets Project's Liza Pratt filled us in on the parklet's history: installed in March of this year, this newborn parklet has been a boon to business, inspiring Mojo to apply for a license to serve liquor outdoors.
En route to the Castro Parklet, SPUR members and staff traded stories, shared laughs and tried not to notice the obscenities scrawled on the battered wood veneer of the 24 bus, (among the most offensive: "I â™¥ STEELY DAN").
Castro: Seth Boor of Boor Bridges Architecture joined us in the Castro, where he told us about the collaborative design process. Boor led the project, but worked with landscape architect Flora Grubb and local sculptor Paul Cesewski on the garden design and rolling gate, respectively. The custom-built gate, created from salvaged steel obtained at no cost, rolls open to allow streetcars to pass through, but remains closed most of the time, creating a lovely barrier against traffic for parklet users. Due to a limited budget (around $50,000), parklet construction can't interfere with any below-street infrastructure, so instead of hooking up to sewer and water lines, passive, ground-level drainage channels were added to the concrete planters.
Mission: A long walk to 22nd and Bartlett Street ended with at the Rebar-designed Walket, which Rebar describes as "a modular, flexible sidewalk extension system designed to create new public spaces for people by extending the pedestrian realm into the parking lane." A diverse crowd in various states of repose was found on, under, and next to the structure.
Thirsting for more parklet adventures, one intrepid tour-goer led a solo expedition to the Guerrero Street parklet after the tour ended. Most of us, however, returned to our respective workplaces, enlightened by an afternoon of small, economical and successful public spaces.
[Photo Credit: All photos by Colleen McHugh]