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Safai wants building owners to hire janitors to boost recycling

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In an effort to boost lagging recycling rates, Supervisor Ahsha Safai has introduced legislation calling for large buildings that fail to meet waste diversion goals to hire professional help. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Hundreds of San Francisco’s largest commercial and residential buildings could be hit with daily fines if they fail to recycle properly.

But they could get out of those penalties by hiring janitors to sort the trash, according to a new proposal.

Supervisor Ahsha Safai introduced legislation last week that aims to boost consumers’ recycling rates after it was recently revealed San Francisco will fail to hit its goal of sending no more waste to the landfill by the end of 2020. Sixty percent of the waste going to the landfill could otherwise be recycled.

The “zero-waste” goal was established in 2003 and recycling became mandatory in San Francisco in 2009.

SEE RELATED: Residents still resist recycling

“We will not achieve that goal by 2020. That has a price to consumers. That has a price to ratepayers. It has a price to our environment,” Safai said when he introduced the legislation.

The legislation targets large waste generators, or those defined as those customers who have roll-off compactor service or generate 30 cubic yards or more of refuse weekly. That’s places like the Ferry Building, AT&T Park or large apartment sites like Parkmerced.

Department of the Environment spokesperson Charles Sheehan told the San Francisco Examiner that the proposal would impact about 600 buildings, including “some of the largest multifamily residential apartment buildings.”

Under the legislation, the department would visually inspect these buildings at least once every two years. If their garbage is not sorted enough — the threshold will be determined by the department if the proposal is approved — they would get a warning notice. If the site remains non-compliant after nine months, they could be hit with fines of up to $1,000 per day.

They could have those fines waived if they hire what’s called a “zero-waste facilitator,” defined as a person or business that has the experience to sort waste: in other words, janitorial services. They would have to hire the “zero-waste facilitator” within 45-days and contract the service for at least two years.

If the sites remain non-compliant after nine months and do not hire a zero-waste facilitator they would be listed on the department’s website as violators.

“Zero waste facilitators are an excellent resource for large refuse generators that want to increase recycling and composting and decrease the trash they send to landfill,” Sheehan told the Examiner Friday. “Supervisor Safai’s legislation will help us ensure that these large generators are complying with the City’s mandatory recycling and composting ordinance. The more our City recycles and composts, the closer we’ll get to our zero waste goal.”

Safai told the Examiner that many large buildings already have janitor services. He said his proposal will “start to chip away” at the 60 percent of waste going to the landfill but otherwise could be recycled. “It’s going to be significant,” Safai said.

The proposal could also benefit SEIU Local 87, which represents janitors and supported Safai in his election.

Recology, The City’s contracted garbage company, offers customers three bins to properly recycle. Blue bins for things like bottles and cans, green bins for compostable items like food and black bins for non-recyclable items that go to the landfill. Anything tossed into the black bins, even if it is recyclable, is not sorted by Recology and will end up in the landfill.

In 2000, San Francisco sent 872,731 tons of waste to the landfill, which decreased to 428,048 tons in 2012. In 2016, that has increased to 580,992 tons.

The law would go into effect Jan. 1.

Safai also said he plans to introduce legislation to combat the amount of construction debris that is illegally being dumped off in the landfill and not properly recycled.

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