As recycling centers close en masse throughout the city, small businesses may owe millions in fees
But since 2012 the number of recycling centers in San Francisco has been reduced from 21 to 7, causing Church and Market's service population to boom closer to 40,000, a difference that has more to do with the closures than the density of the area. Data from CalRecycle shows almost half of the city's populace lacks a recycling center within close proximity, forcing patrons to overwhelm the few remaining centers.
"This makes it a chicken and egg process," Collins told us. "For people to have the perception that the site is attracting so many people, they have to realize it's because there are so few sites to begin with."
Late last month, Assemblymember Tom Ammiano wrote to Safeway Chief Executive Officer Robert L. Edwards, urging the grocery chain to reverse its decision to evict San Francisco Community Recyclers from the Church and Market Safeway.
"Safeway has such a long history of supporting sustainability efforts," Ammiano wrote, "and I truly believe that it can do so again." Safeway, however, has other concerns.
"As curbside recycling has increased in San Francisco and around the state," Safeway Director of Public Affairs Keith Turner wrote to Ammiano, "Safeway's focus on recycling has evolved as well."
Safeway is now also flouting local and state laws to throw recyclers off its back. CalRecycle, the state's recycling agency, performed an inspection in April of the Diamond Heights Safeway. It found that the grocer failed to accept recyclables and offer state guaranteed redemption, despite signing an affidavit with CalRecycle pledging to do just that. CalRecycle cited that location and two other San Francisco Safeways for noncompliance with the bottle bill.
And that's just the violations CalRecycle has documented so far. Ed Dunn, owner and operator of San Francisco Community Recyclers, has initiated his own investigation into Safeway statewide, filing complaints with CalRecycle alleging that as many as 75 Safeway stores aren't following the mandates of their affidavits and offering redemption for recyclables.
On the other side of the fence, Safeway and other recycling-center critics (such as Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius) are essentially saying, who cares? Don't we all just use blue bins nowadays?
The short answer: Nope.
MAKING GREEN, GOING GREEN
"Why do we need recycling centers if we have curbside recycling?" Sup. Eric Mar asked the deputy director of recycling at CalRecycle, point blank.
Jose Ortiz responded in less than a beat. "While some communities think curbside operations ensure the state's goals of collecting [recyclables], the reality is that 90 percent of recycling volume is collected through recycling centers, not curbside programs," he said from the podium.
That number came as a shock to many at the Board of Supervisors Neighborhood Services and Safety Committee June 19, including Sups. Mar, David Campos, and Norman Yee. Only 8 percent of recycling statewide comes through blue bins, CalRecyle confirmed to the Guardian.
Nor is that limited to California: Data from the Container Recycling Institute shows that the 10 states with recycling redemption laws produce such a high rate of return that they account for 46 percent of the nation's recycling. And since California Redemption Value recycling is pre-sorted, experts note, the bottles are often recycled whole (as opposed to broken) which can be used for higher-grade recycling purposes.
So for the city with a mandated goal of zero waste by 2020, the case for keeping recycling centers open is an environmental one. It's also fiscal.
San Franciscans make $18 million a year selling back recyclables, Ortiz said, most of which went directly into the pockets of recyclers. Those scavengers at the Fourth of July festivities may have only collected five cents per can, but that's enough to buoy the income of many poor San Franciscans.