San Francisco: Zeroing in on zero waste

via Flickr. By Frank Farm. CC - Some rights reserved, attribution, non-commercial, no-derivative works

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal featured an article on municipal waste, highlighting San Francisco’s impressive statistics. The city currently diverts about 77% of its waste from the landfill by accepting a wide range of recyclables (paper, glass, metals, all plastics except for styrofoam and bags) and requiring separation of green waste (food and yard waste plus biodegradables like paper napkins).  You only pay for what must be trucked to a landfill (“Pay as you throw”).

How will San Francisco get from 77% to 99%?  A significant piece of the answer is the concept of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).  Americans have long accepted that the individual or his community must pay the cost of disposal or recycling for a product at the end of its useful life.  Special handling of hazardous waste is an additional cost.  EPR policies, however, keep the responsibility with the manufacturer.  Shifting the burden of recycling and proper disposal of toxics will inevitably lead to more thoughtfully designed products, as any waste now becomes the producer’s problem.  Think it can’t happen?  Europe has many such programs in place. Here’s a brief article from E-The Environmental Magazine: In Europe, EPR is the Law.