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SF approves pilot program with controversial recycling company

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A donation bin for Campus California, which has changed its name to Recycle for Change, is seen in Oakland. (Courtesy Donate Oakland)

San Francisco approved a pilot program this month with a textile recycling company currently involved in a legal fight with the City of Oakland stemming from complaints over its management of recycling bins.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency on March 6 approved the use of three city-owned parking lots and garages as locations for Recycle for Change receptacles, large metal bins that collect unwanted clothes and textiles. The locations include a parking lot at California and Steiner streets, a Noe Valley parking lot and the Mission Bartlett garage.

The company’s recycling bins have been on private property around The City since at least 2015, according to Peter Gallotta, a spokesperson for the San Francisco Department of Environment, but this is the first time the receptacles will be placed on public grounds.

The new pilot program is part of an effort to reach The City’s “Zero Waste by 2020” goal, which was set in 2003. So far, progress toward that goal has been slow, with The City not only failing to meet waste reduction goals in 2017, but exceeding the amount of waste in landfills from 2016, as previously reported by the San Francisco Examiner.

Recycle for Change will be responsible for maintaining the new textile boxes, according to its agreement with The City. However, it was problems with the nonprofit’s maintenance of the receptacles that led Oakland officials to pass new regulations around all donation boxes.

Oakland officials received complaints about clothing being left scattered around the bins.

“We weren’t the issue,” Alexandra Bradley, a spokesperson from Recycle for Change, said. “It’s people not knowing how to manage their materials.”

However, San Francisco is expecting Recycle for Change to provide information to those using the receptacles.

“We fully expect them to conduct education and outreach to residents about how to properly use their collection boxes,” Gallotta said.

In 2015, Oakland approved regulations on all donation boxes that required a $535 permit for each receptacle and an annual $91 renewal fee. They also included a rule that the 6-foot-tall bins could not be within 1000 feet of each other.

Recycle for Change, which previously operated under the name “Campus California,” sued and claimed the bins had the same First Amendment rights as a human who solicits for donations. In court documents, they called the bins “silent solicitors” that should be protected by the constitution.

The case was dismissed in Alameda County Superior Court, but Recycle for Change has filed multiple appeals. Most recently, the case was rejected by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in April 2017. Oakland and Recycle for Change will meet in April to determine the next steps in the lawsuit.

In San Francisco, city officials said the Recycle for Change pilot program was vetted based on the company’s ability to properly recycle and reuse their donated materials.

“It really wasn’t us selecting them so much as just reviewing with the [Department of Environment] this idea of theirs, vetting it and deciding that yeah it would seem like a reasonable idea,” said SFMTA Parking Manager Rob Malone.

The DOE awarded Recycle for Change a $50,000 grant this year on top of a previous $50,000 grant the company received from The City in the 2015-2017 Zero Waste budget.

“The Department has not heard of any issues with the Recycle for Change boxes in San Francisco,” Gallotta said. “We’re aware of the Oakland law that passed.”

San Francisco has more than 100 locations where residents can bring their used clothes and apparel to be recycled and reused, Gallotta said. But The City is encouraging more.

“Our goal at the department is that we want to increase convenience,” Gallotta said.

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