Last year wasn’t easy for many San Franciscans. The pot of systemic racism, sexism, fear and ignorance boiled over in our city and across the country. After a violent year of mass shootings, police brutality and civil unrest, Donald Trump won a contentious election. The president-elect’s proposed cabinet will likely stoke this unrest further, while making executives richer and the planet more polluted.
Yes, 2016 slapped San Franciscans across the face with the reality we need to do more than click on petitions and complain. If we truly want a better tomorrow, 2017 must be a year of action. We must empower marginalized communities, protect our democratic process from corporate influence and make polluters care. One way to do all three is to reduce the waste we send to landfills dramatically.
Choosing not to recycle or compost sets a dangerous system in motion. Companies frack to make more petroleum-based plastics for our food, clothes and enjoyment. Big food executives pressure farmers to use more harmful fertilizers, antibiotics and large amounts of water. Landfills expand while resources decrease. These practices expose communities to unhealthy air, water and disease and expose the planet to climate change-causing gases.
San Francisco’s goal to send zero waste to landfills by 2020 could free us from this unsustainable system. City government has made it easy to compost food scraps. The Board of Supervisors has prohibited plastic bags and Styrofoam and banned The City from purchasing plastic water bottles. This eliminates unnecessary forms of trash. Recology, San Francisco’s waste service, just completed an upgrade to improve recycling efficiency and experimentation. It hires San Francisco residents to recycle and compost.
Despite these efforts, the City Controller determined San Francisco isn’t on track to meet its ambitious waste goal. The amount San Francisco sends to landfills has actually increased. To rage against this dangerous system, in which corporate fat cats win at the expense of communities and the environment, San Franciscans must keep our black bins closed. We must take a lesson from 2016 and be ambitious ourselves this year.
A few San Francisco leaders have shared their personal resolutions, other than passing new legislation, to get to zero waste.
Supervisor Katy Tang told me she composts “like crazy” but said she’d like to work harder composting more bathroom products.
Supervisor Mark Farrell said he also put a compost bin in his bathroom and stopped purchasing hard-to-recycle, petroleum-based plastic straws.
Debbie Raphael, director of the Department of Environment, resolved to waste less food.
“I’m well aware of the tremendous impact of wasting food on our environmental footprint and emissions of greenhouse gases,” Raphael told me. “So my resolution will be to use more of the food I buy (i.e. beet and radish greens) and to make sure I ‘shop my refrigerator’ and use everything that finds its way into my kitchen.”
Some San Franciscans are even more ambitious.
Catherine Homsey of Miraloma Park has worked toward zero waste for years. She asks for a mug instead of a disposable cup at Starbuck’s and brings her own containers for takeout. Like many San Franciscans, Homsey shops at the Mission District’s iconic Rainbow Grocery, where you can fill your own jars and bags with their array of bulk goods. She always tries to buy used, but makes exceptions when necessary, like buying ibuprofen for her kids.
“My Instagram handle @joyofzerowaste describes my attitude,” Homsey told me. “Reducing waste should make you feel happier. You shouldn’t sweat it if you’re not perfect all the time.”
San Franciscans deserve some happiness after 2016’s challenges. Reducing waste can bring joy and pride. It should feel empowering. It should provide freedom from a system that’s wreaked so much havoc on neighborhoods and our planet. It’s our chance to take control over our economy and government as the Don of the ’80s excess takes power. For more ideas on how to help reduce waste, visit the Department of Environment’s website.
Robyn Purchia is an environmental attorney, environmental blogger and environmental activist who hikes, gardens and tree hugs in her spare time. Check her out at robynpurchia.com.