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Recycling proposal to require hiring trash sorters held up in board committee

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Recyclables move through the line on the recycling system at Recology’s Recycle Central on Pier 96. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

A proposal designed to boost San Francisco’s recycling rate, but which could force large businesses to hire trash sorters, failed to advance Thursday amid opposition from owners of businesses and downtown office buildings.

After a nearly two-hour hearing Thursday, the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee postponed a vote on Supervisor Ahsha Safai’s legislation that would impact 419 customers of the trash hauler Recology. The customers, including office buildings, large apartment buildings and hotels, are among the largest trash generators in The City.

The delayed vote came even though Safai reduced the number of those impacted from 548 by applying it to those who generate over 40 cubic yards of refuse a week instead of the initial 30 cubic yards. He further amended the proposal Thursday to give food pantries and 100 percent affordable housing projects two more years to comply, extending the start date to July 1, 2021.

Several groups, including the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce , BOMA SF, which represents the interests of downtown building owners, and the Apartment Association opposed the proposal Thursday for the hiring mandate.

Safai had requested his proposal advance to the full board for a vote, but committee chair and board president Malia Cohen blocked that request and was supported by Supervisor Rafael Mandelman. Supervisor Catherine Stefani supported sending it to the full board.

Cohen said that she wanted more time to debate the proposal and said she was considering an amendment that would give businesses more time to comply before they would have to hire trash sorters.

Under the proposal if the customer is not recycling their trash properly in an audit by the Department of the Environment they would be required to hire one or more trash sorters for two years to sort the trash properly or face fines of $1,000 per day.

“This is about an entry level minimum wage job,” said Safai. “This is a position that will pay for itself. It will help save the company money and ultimately save our environment.”

The department presented data showing that those properties who have hired trash sorters saved money from lower garbage rates and avoiding penalties.

The Department of the Environment, which is supporting the measure, provided committee members with an updated list of the impacted customers by address, name and supervisorial district. Specific businesses have raised concerns in recent weeks. Some are no longer impacted.

“So for example, the Food Mart in your district was on the list, is no longer on the list,” Safai noted to Cohen.

Safai introduced the legislation after it was revealed last year that The City would not meet its goal of sending zero waste to the landfill by 2020. Mayor London Breed has committed to a new recycling goal.

Debbie Raphael is the Director of the San Francisco Department of the Environment, said that The City has committed “on the world stage” to reduce what’s going to the landfill by 2030. “We’ve got a major commitment,” she said.

Raphael said that the legislation is a “tool” to help achieve that new goal. She said the proposal targets about 1 percent of the customers who comprise about 20 percent of the landfill waste.

“Of those large generators many of them are willing partners,” she said. “There are a number of them who won’t less us through door.” She said when they are penalized with fines “they simply pay their way out.”

After the decision to postpone, Safai told the San Francisco Examiner there may just be a “fundamental difference” on whether to pass the legislation, but noted he has increased support from his colleauges, gaining Supervisors Katy Tang, Vallie Brown and Hillary Ronen as co-sponsors.

He said he would continue to talk with Cohen and “hopefully we will convince her” to support it by Nov. 29, when the committee is next scheduled to vote on it.

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