Solid Waste & Recycling


I Left My (Artichoke) Heart in San Francisco

Managers of Canadian organics separation, collection and composting programs interested in capturing more material from the urban industrial, commercial institutional (IC&I) sector might want to take a close look at what's happening in San Francis...

Managers of Canadian organics separation, collection and composting programs interested in capturing more material from the urban industrial, commercial institutional (IC&I) sector might want to take a close look at what’s happening in San Francisco.

Diversion rates are rising, and organics diversion is considered almost chic.

At Jardiniere, Farallon and Boulevard, three of the city’s finest restaurants, the presentation and surroundings are artful and the meals are delicious, but unlike their counterparts in most large cities these restaurants also take pride in something historically frowned upon — their waste containers.

Businesses in San Francisco as diverse as skyscrapers in the financial district and a juice, tea and “live food” caf in the Haight Asbury are excited about their containers because these enterprises recycle or compost most of their waste material.

In fact, nearly 2,000 San Francisco businesses including restaurants, supermarkets, delis, coffee shops, bakeries, and produce markets participate in the Food Scrap Compost Program. Anything compostable (all kitchen trimmings and plate scrapings) is accepted in this program. The finished compost, thanks to the diverse feedstock, is rich in nitrogen and other nutrients. The soil amendment, called Four Course Compost ( is favored by commercial growers who apply the compost to orchards, farms, and vineyards.

At Scoma’s on Fisherman’s Wharf, one of the city’s busiest eateries, 92 per cent of the restaurant’s waste is diverted from landfill through reuse, recycling and compost programs. Everything from cantaloupe skins to crab shells and other plate scrapings left behind by diners are collected as compostable material by Golden Gate Disposal & Recycling Company. Scoma’s purchasing director Kelly Bennett requires vendors delivering restaurant supplies to minimize and eliminate packaging, and the waterfront restaurant recycles all bottles, cans, paper and cardboard.

Jardiniere, Farallon and Boulevard, also separate food scraps for collection as compost material. At Jardiniere, kitchen manager Ben Cohn and all others on staff make sure every eggshell and vegetable trimming is saved for the compost bin. All three of the famous restaurants provide compostable take-out containers instead of Styrofoam or plastic to customers requesting “doggy bags.”

The Marriott Hotel assigns four full-time employees to oversee reuse, recycling and compost efforts. Randall Nelson, a supervisor at the Marriott, reports the hotel donated and recycled 800 tonnes of material in 2003, including 35,000 extra meals distributed through Food Runners, a non-profit agency. Half-full bottles of shampoo and small rolls of toilet paper are donated to homeless shelters and low-income housing programs.

Other large hotels, including the Fairmont and Hilton, also maintain green teams to make sure their hotels actively participate in recycling programs. A cook’s tour of the kitchens at the Hilton includes green compost collection carts full of half-eaten sausages and other remnants from the hundreds of meals served daily by the hotel’s restaurants and room service.

At 100 Pine Street, a downtown office tower, building management does not provide liner bags for waste receptacles at individual workstations. The lack of a liner bag encourages workers to get up from their desks and discard soiled napkins and unfinished portions of their lunch in designated containers. Waste from office work areas, mostly paper, is collected separately, sorted and recycled.

At the Gap’s headquarters building on Folsom Street, 76 percent of waste is recycled. Food scraps collected from the Gap’s employee cafeteria, and hundreds of other businesses in San Francisco, are made into rich compost that is applied to farms and vineyards in Northern California.

The fresh fruits, vegetables and wine produced from fields and vineyards fertilized with this compost are often served in San Francisco restaurants that participate in the Food Scrap Compost Program. In this way San Francisco businesses help close the recycling loop locally.

San Francisco businesses that aggressively incorporate environmentally friendly practices in their daily operations are recognized through the Commercial Recycler of the Year Awards. Winners of the “CORYs” receive a “Golden Dumpster” award and part of a $27,000 purse.

To learn more about San Francisco’s organics and waste diversion programs, contact Robert Reed of Norcal Waste Systems at

Guy Crittenden is editor of this magazine.

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