Editorial: City wins one round in litter fight

For too long, an embarrassing feature of The City environment has been that some of our most attractive vistas are routinely littered with ugly fast-food wrappers and miscellaneous windblown papers, sticky wads of chewing gum, cigarette butts and tire-slashing broken glass. Often as not, the most heavily trafficked corridors suffer the worst littering.

But this is one front in The City’s ongoing battle against litter in which there is actually some good news. A Toronto-based urban think tank has been testing our streets annually and its latest report found San Francisco pavements are much cleaner than they were last year.

The City’s new rating shows that Mayor Gavin Newsom was on the right track in 2007 when he ordered removal of between 300 and 400 of The City’s approximately 5,000 sidewalk trash cans. The mayor gambled that business owners and residents would be more strongly motivated to clean up their own area’s trash if they were prevented from relying too much on passers-by to dispose of their litter in (or near) the often-overflowing municipal trash cans. After that move in 2007, Newsom pledged to reduce litter by 50 percent in the next five years.

According to the survey, the Mission district and South of Market are still the messiest areas of The City, but much of the Haight and Fillmore have improved significantly. The absolute highest trash count was 372 pieces littering Channel Street, near AT&T Park. And, as usual, trash with identifiable markings was predominantly from large restaurant chains — McDonald’s, Starbucks, Burger King, Taco Bell and Popeye’s were all among The City’s 12 worst litter sources. On the other hand, much fewer Muni transfers and other trash were dropped near bus stops.

But another newly proposed Newsom strategy in the garbage war risks being unenforceable due to its heavy-handedness. For the nation’s first mandatory recycling and composting law to gain sufficient public cooperation, it would require considerably more clarification than has yet been provided.

The mayor’s plan would require The City’s private garbage collectors to inspect residents’ trash to ensure that all waste is being sorted correctly into three different bins for recycling, composting and actual trash. Violators would first receive warnings, and then they could lose their garbage pickups or be fined up to $1,000.

Along with the obvious additional burden of expense and delay in servicing garbage collection routes, most San Franciscans live in multi-unit buildings with shared garbage bins. This would make it virtually impossible to ascertain which residents were guilty of noncompliance.

These are just some of the sticking points that would need careful resolution before mandatory multi­stream recycling becomes feasible here. Since The City is an estimated five years away from using up its entire tonnage quota at the Altamont Landfill, reducing our waste is a serious issue that must be addressed thoughtfully.

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