Mayor trashes high fines for poor garbage sorting

One week after The Examiner reported The City might start fining residents as much as $1,000 if they repeatedly put compostable or recyclable material in the wrong curbside bin, Mayor Gavin Newsom called the proposal “outrageous” and capped the fines at $100.

Newsom announced in April that The City would start issuing fines to encourage recycling. The Environment Department drafted a new law, which would take effect in January — if it isapproved by the Board of Supervisors — that included fines for throwing bottles or food scraps in black trash bins.

The proposal touched off a storm of protest after The Examiner revealed the fines could reach $1,000 and that trash collectors would be charged with rooting through curbside bins to aid enforcement efforts.

Waste-collection firm Sunset Scavenger Company opposed plans to use its trash collectors as garbage inspectors.

“Our relationship with our customers is based on trust,” company spokesman Robert Reed said.

On Thursday, Newsom issued a statement saying the point of the mandatory recycling and composting legislation was to boost The City’s recycling rate from 70 percent to 90 percent.

“We don’t need outrageous fines to do that,” the statement read.

Environment Department director Jared Blumenfeld on Thursday confirmed that fines for residents would be capped at $100, but he said higher fines could be leveled against businesses and multiunit building owners if they fail to provide recycling and composting facilities. New legislation has not yet been drafted, he said.

In a statement Thursday, mayoral spokesman Joe Arellano downplayed the retreat from $1,000 fines.

“The $500 to $1,000 fines referenced in news reports were simply placeholder numbers in a draft bill,” he wrote.

The ordinance includes sweeping provisions that would also force restaurants and event organizers to make sorting trash “convenient” for customers. Restaurants that provide recycling and composting containers would be exempt from city laws requiring them to provide trash cans.

The Mayor’s Office said it hopes the program will lift The City’s recycling and composting rate from 70 percent today to 75 percent by 2010 — a goal established by the Board of Supervisors.

The 75 percent target is not expected to be reached by 2010 if recycling remains voluntary, according to Environment Department documents.

jupton@sfexaminer.com

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