As recycling centers close en masse throughout the city, small businesses may owe millions in fees
At the recycling hearing, David Mangan approached the podium to speak. His red hat was clean and his grey sweatshirt was ironed, but his face was worn with worry-lines and creases.
"I can't walk more than about eight blocks at a time, and I'm unemployable because of my disabilities," he told the committee. Recycling centers are a lifeline, he added. "I need this job, I'm on a limited income. I need the help they offer. I need them to stay open, please."
Critics say some poor and homeless depend on a black market of recycling truck drivers who trade drugs for cans and bottles, then turn to recycling centers to make a profit. But those at the hearing said the extinction of recycling centers actually helps the mobile, black market recycling fleets bloom, as motorists have an easier time shuttling recyclables across the city.
So recyclers are increasingly forced to rely on these so-called "mosquito fleets" for far-flung trips to cash in their bottles.
SMALL BUSINESS BUST
Meanwhile, recycling center evictions are becoming a source of anxiety within the small business community.
State law establishes a half-mile radius called a "convenience zone" around any supermarket that annually makes more than $2 million. The supermarket is mandated to provide recycling on-site, accept recyclables in-store, or opt to pay a $100 a day fee.
With the eviction of SFCR from Church and Market, Safeway may opt to pay the fee. But that gap would leave surrounding businesses inside that convenience zone with the same options: accept recyclables in-store or pay $36,000 a year.
Miriam Zouzounis of the Arab-American Grocer Association said those options are daunting for liquor stores and mom-and-pop grocers.
"We just don't have the space for [recycling]," she said at the hearing. If SFCR were to close, the total of small businesses shouldering the burden of state recycling fees would jump from 100 to more than 360, said Regina Dick-Endrizzi, director of the city's Office of Small Business.
All told, San Francisco small businesses would be made to send $12.96 million in annual fees to California coffers because a few supermarkets didn't want to handle recyclables. Mar is now calling upon all involved to step up and solve this glaring problem.
SOLUTIONS ON THE WAY
This week the Board of Supervisors is tentatively set to vote on a moratorium of recycling center evictions, introduced by Mar on June 24. The pause would give Mar time to form a work group with those involved: Department of the Environment, Department of Public Works, CalRecycle, local supermarkets, grocers, the Coalition on Homelessness, and others to come together to form a compromise solution.
Department of the Environment proposed a mobile recycling center, which Wiener called an equitable solution that would help distribute recycling responsibility evenly across the city. While that agency did not provide a timeline on the creation of a mobile recycling center before our deadline, it's been in the works since 2012, when then-District 5 Sup. Christina Olague said it was the answer to the Haight Ashbury Recycling Center's closure.
It's been a long wait for a solution. And in the meantime, many more stand to lose.