Canned again - Page 2

Safeway's two new recycling center closures add to impacts on small businesses and the poor

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The state bill was crafted in 1986, which makes it outdated in a number of ways, Dick-Endrizzi said. But the convenience zone requirements need to be amended on a state level, meaning a fix could be months or years away. "This is not going to be a quick solve," she said.

In the meantime, stores must apply for exemptions, which are numbering too many in San Francisco at this point, said Mark Oldfield, communications director for Cal Recycle.

"The point of the convenience zones to have places for people to recycle," he told us. "If they're all exemptions, there's no place for convenience."

But even when supermarkets put in recycling machines, consumers and the city still lose out, critics say.

Kevin Drew, the zero waste coordinator at the city's SF Environment, brought the problem to the Small Business Commission in December. "I've heard concerns from homeowners and consumers saying 'There's not a place to take my bottles and cans, I've got to drive there, and there's a huge long line when I get there.'"

That's the rub: When many San Franciscans think of people who collect bottles and cans, they think of the homeless, maybe vagrants, certainly poor, who take them from our curbside bins and trash cans. But even if you don't identify with those folks, they're not the only ones depending on these recycling centers.

"My experience in going to the centers and seeing what happens is that where there are certainly is a robust group of scavengers and poachers," Drew told the Small Business Commission. "There's a steady flow of people from a restaurant, people coming with kids... You'd be surprised."

He said that of the $18 million a year in recycling San Francisco produces, two-thirds of that comes from recycling centers. So if you think "everyone" uses curbside recycling, think again. The Guardian's research bears out the idea that there are still regular folks using recycling centers. As we covered the city's closure of the Haight Ashbury Recycling Center (see "Canned," 12/4/12), we met families, kids who brought in recycling for their allowance, bar and restaurant owners who wanted to make money back instead of paying for curbside recycling, and yes, vagrants. One of the customers we talked to was Kristy Zeng, a 30-year-old immigrant from China who worked with her 62-year-old mother to support the family with recycling revenues. "People look at her and say she's too old [to get another job]," Zeng said. Finally, there's the impact to the city to consider. Anyone who has ever been in Dolores Park on a sunny afternoon understands the role that recyclers play in keeping San Francisco clean and providing an elegant way for the poor to earn a living. With Safeway's decision, both benefits are being diminished.