Safai’s recycling proposal advances despite opposition from businesses

Following multiple hearings and a number of amendments, a proposal that could require hundreds of San Francisco’s businesses and apartment buildings to hire people to help recycle their garbage advanced Thursday to the Board of Supervisors for a vote.

Supervisor Ahsha Safai introduced the legislation in June after learning that The City would no longer meet its decade-old goal of sending no more trash to the landfill by 2020.

Under the proposal, about 400 of San Francisco’s large trash generators, including downtown office buildings, hotels and restaurants, would undergo trash audits once every three years. If they fail the audit, the Department of the Environment could force them to hire trash sorters, also called janitors, for at least one year.

Those impacted by the proposal have opposed it from the start, and even with a number of amendments, the opposition continued during the board’s Budget and Finance Committee Thursday.

To view a list of those impacted by the proposal click here.

The committee voted to send the proposal to the full board for a vote on Tuesday, when more amendments are expected.

Board president Malia Cohen has expressed concerns about the proposal, but offered some praise for it during Thursday’s hearing.

“What we are trying to do here is to get the city to zero waste,” Cohen said. “The legislation focuses appropriately on a few business that are collectively generating 20 percent of the trash.”

Cohen said she intends to propose an amendment Tuesday that would give nonprofits who fail an audit a chance to pass a subsequent audit within six months to avoid having to hire janitors.

Safai has made a number of concessions since he introduced the legislation. He postponed the effective date from January to July for private businesses and to July 2021 for nonprofits. He also reduced the number of those impacted from 548 to 419 by applying it to those who generate over 40 cubic yards of refuse a week instead of the initial 30 cubic yards It also applies to those with roll-off compactor service.

“It will save the environment,” Safai said. “It will create in many instances minimum wage jobs but that are often paying for themselves and saving businesses money.”

Safai emphasized that 60 percent of the garbage ending up in the landfill could otherwise be recycled.

Jack Macy, senior zero waste coordinator for the Department of the Environment, said all of Recology’s customers see their diversion rate on their monthly bills. “We know overall that 90-plus percent of what is being discarded can go into composting and recycling,” Macy said. “For most properties, they should be able to be at a 90-plus percent recovery rate, a better word for diversion.”

The proposal was backed by Olga Miranda, president of SEIU Local 87, the labor union that represent janitors.

Opponents continued to criticized the measure Thursday. They argued it was too punitive and should have more warnings before the hiring mandate was triggered.

John Bozeman, director of government and industry affairs for Building Owners and Managers Association of San Francisco, which represents high-rise building owners, said the proposal “will affect scores of our members who do not have control of what their tenants place in the three refuse streams.”

“This ordinance is targeting a building owner or a manager and it is not tackling the entire refuse cycle, which should include tenants and visitors,” he said.

Safai’s proposal builds upon San Francisco’s past zero-waste efforts, including the the June 2009 legislation adopted by the board that required everyone to separate their trash into bins for recyclables, compostables and landfill trash.

To comply with the current recycling law, customers need to have less than 50 percent of the trash in the black bins containing recyclables or compostables and less than 5 percent of the wrong materials mixed in with the recyclables in the blue bin and compostables in the green bin.

“The threshold for trash is very high,” said Peter Gallotta, Department of the Environment spokesperson. “Should the ordinance pass, the department would likely issue guidance requiring a lower threshold so that we can move further towards zero waste.”

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