City leaders and Recology officials announced major changes to San Francisco's waste and recycling program at the Memorial Court near City Hall on Thursday, October 5, 2017. (Mira Laing/Special to S.F. Examiner)

SF moves to phase out residential garbage bins

San Francisco’s black, residential garbage bins could very soon be a thing of the past.

Empty milk cartons, bubble wrap, plastic bags and entire coffee cups — including paper sleeves and plastic lids — previously destined for landfills are considered recyclable as of Thursday, city and recycling leaders announced.

“We have never been closer to eliminating the need for our black bin,” said Debbie Raphael, director of the San Francisco Department of Environment. “We need to reduce waste [and] reuse what we can so that it has a life over and over again, and when we are done with things we need to put them in the right place — in the blue and in the green bins.”

In line with The City’s vision to reach zero waste — or sending no discards to landfills — by 2020, San Francisco updated its recycling program for the first time in over 15 years to allow previously unrecyclable materials to pass through blue recycle bins, rather than black bins that hold garbage.

The effort was announced Thursday at a news conference at the Memorial Court across from City Hall, and includes the rollout of new, larger bins over the next two years, starting in the Sunset District.

Residents there will soon have their black waste bins swapped with smaller, 16-gallon bins, and their blue recycle bins replaced by larger, 64-gallon bins.

Paper, plastic, metals and glass will all find space in the new recycle bins, as long as containers are free of foods and liquids. Instead of discarding of multiple plastic bags separately, Recology is asking for plastic bags to be wrapped into one, for the ease of employees sorting through the recycled.

“The rollout of new bins will take two years, but starting today, everybody can use their blue bins differently,” Raphael said. “You can put all these materials in the blue bin, regardless of whether or not Recology has come to deliver new bins.”

Dubbed the “Fantastic Three,” the equal-sized compost, waste, and recycle (green, black and blue, respectfully) bins were first implemented in 2001, after Recology opened a recycling center at Pier 96.

“Almost 15 years later, we are launching next evolution of program,” said Peter Giusti, Community and Government Affairs Manager at Recology, adding that the company has invested in new infrastructure and additional local labor to expand the range of materials San Franciscans may recycle. Recology trucks are also being redesigned to adapt to the system changes.

For decades, The City has been a leader in waste reduction, Board of Supervisors President London Breed said.

Breed said that if The City continues its current reduction efforts, “We will have zero waste, no black bins, and the Fantastic Two bins instead of the Frantastic Three,” before 2020.

Supervisor Katy Tang, whose district includes the Sunset where the new bins will first arrive, encouraged The City’s residents to not only “reduce, reuse and recycle,” but to also “remember to refuse things.”

“When I go to coffee shops I try to bring my own mug,” Tang said. “I hope all of you will take it upon yourselves to change a little bit of your lifestyles. A little bit each time, and we will get there one day.”

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