Refuse to Primary Landfill

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Target: Zero waste by 2020

Result: 1,563 tons (workday average)


In 2003, San Francisco set a goal of achieving zero waste and has since cut its landfill disposal in half. Zero waste means that we send zero discards to the landfill or high-temperature destruction. Instead, products are designed and used according to the principle of highest and best use and the waste reduction hierarchy: prevent waste, reduce and reuse first, and recycle and compost. Recycling and composting are important because they conserve resources, combat climate change, and create jobs. One of the best ways to determine progress towards San Francisco's zero waste is to measure average workday tons of material sent to the city's primary landfill each month.



How San Francisco is Performing

The City of San Francisco has adopted a variety of policies which have helped the city move toward accomplishing the goal of zero waste. Most important to the City’s success is the Mandatory Recycling and Composting Ordinance, which went into effect on October 21, 2009. It requires San Francisco residents and businesses to properly sort recyclables from compostables and keep them out of the trash to landfill and place them in the proper collection containers. The Department of the Environment's Environment Now team conducts extensive, multilingual and door-to-door outreach to residents and businesses and also checks residential curbside bins throughout the city. If materials are found in the incorrect bin, a tag is posted on the resident’s bin that indicates the correct bin. The team returns the following week to ensure that the error was corrected. The team also visits residents to answer questions about recycling and composting.

The Department of the Environment staff work with Recology, the city’s hauler, to ensure that businesses have composting and recycling bins. If they do not, the Department sends them a letter advising them to order composting and recycling service. The Department of the Environment then follows up in person to ensure compliance. The City prioritizes education and outreach to encourage compliance, rather than impose fines. Face-to-face outreach has proven effective in helping residents and businesses become compliant with laws. However, the City can impose fines to repeat offenders.

The average workday tons of refuse sent to the primary landfill have increased slightly since 2013. To reverse this trend, the San Francisco Department of the Environment (SF Environment) conducts extensive outreach to educate city businesses, government employees, residents, and visitors on zero waste goals. SF Environment uses a wide variety of methods including face-to-face resident education, easy-to-understand signage, technical assistance for businesses, refuse audit information provision to generators, and online and traditional media marketing. SF Environment also registers construction and demolition debris transporters and requires that material be sent to registered recovery facilities.

Overall, tons of refuse sent to landfills have decreased dramatically since 2000, with 2012 being the lowest year on record. The decrease in landfill tons can be attributed to programs, policies, education, enforcement, incentives, and partnerships. San Francisco was the first city in the country to adopt a simple-to-use, three-bin refuse collection program—recyclables, compostables, and trash—for all residents and businesses. San Francisco adopted and actively encourages compliance with policies such as the Zero Waste Resolution, Construction and Demolition Debris Recovery Ordinance, Mandatory Recycling and Composting Ordinance, Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinances, and Food Service Waste Reduction Ordinance. San Francisco provides financial incentives to haulers and generators to minimize waste and encourage recycling and composting. These effort have made San Francisco a national leader and have resulted in a material recovery rate of almost two and a half times the national average.

How Performance is Measured

Recology reports to SF Environment quarterly on tons of refuse sent to the primary landfill.

The number displayed on the scorecard page represents a fiscal year average of the raw daily values, and therefore may differ slightly than average of the monthly averages in the chart above.

Additional Information

Learn more about SF Environment's Zero Waste Initiative.


Please visit DataSF for the scorecard data.