San Francisco's Top Eco-Friendly Habits

Photo of Haley Harrington
9 February 2017

San Francisco is known for being a liberal leaning city. Many social issues have taken root here, and one of those issues today is environmental mindfulness. According to a Siemens Corp study, SF is the greenest city in North America. But that isn’t stopping San Francisco from finding new ways of becoming even more environmentally friendly.

“Fantastic 3” waste containers | © Neetal Parekh/Flickr

Waste Management

San Francisco has been a leader in waste management for quite a while. In 2008 the city introduced the tri-part waste program that is used today. In this system, residents have bins for landfill waste, recycling, and compost. In accordance with the Mandatory Recycling and Composting Ordinance, residents and businesses are required to properly sort their waste. In addition, there are monetary incentives to use the compost and recycling bins – downsizing the landfill bin results in savings. Currently, San Francisco diverts 80% of its waste away from landfills, and it plans on increasing that number to 100% by 2020. Part of the program for 100% waste diversion relies on advocating for products designed with a cradle-to-cradle approach. However, the composting and recycling programs have the potential to let the city reach 90% diversion.

Fort Mason Community Garden, San Francisco | © Orin Zebest/WikiCommons

Urban agriculture

San Francisco has implemented legislation to encourage urban farming. In 2008, the Civic Center hosted a garden that was intended to serve as an educational space particularly focused on urban farming. In 2014, a law was passed to give a tax break to owners of empty lots who turned their space into urban farms. In addition, there is the San Francisco Seed Library, with multiple branches, which lends seeds and provides helpful information. Urban farming is beneficial because of the CO2 plants remove from the air, reduced reliance on industrial agriculture, and improvement of soil quality in land that might otherwise be fallow. Community gardens and rooftop gardens are popular throughout the city. Some of the rooftop gardens are farms, while others are just beautiful green places of community.

San Francisco | © Paul.h/WikiCommons

Private Sector

The government of San Francisco and the private sector enjoy a symbiotic relationship in regards to environmental concerns. Energy-awareness programs paid for by businesses, low-cost loans for green improvements, and company-based promotion of environmentally friendly commuting. Other examples include companies like Home Green Home – cleaning companies that have environmental consciousness built into their core mission. There are also benefit structures designed to encourage more “green thinking” in the private sector. For instance, building projects that will meet LEED gold or higher are given priority permitting. There is a feed-in tariff program to stimulate investment into renewable energy. The cooperation between the private and public sector in San Francisco allows for environmentally friendly projects that might be otherwise impossible.

Bottled water | © Saw2th/WikiCommons

Recycled Water

Water conservation, while always an important topic, is especially pertinent in California where droughts in combination with the natural climate have created a serious problem. San Francisco has made a number of efforts directed at water conservation. One of the alternative water supplies being developed is recycled water. This is treated wastewater that can be used for irrigation, plumbing, cooling, and decorative fountains. Other programs, such as cooking oil recycling, target water pollution reduction. This program converts cooking oil into bio-diesel, which is then used to power the city’s fleet.

Plastics Ban

Plastic bags have been banned in San Francisco since 2007, and this measure was expanded in 2012. Recently San Francisco has also banned plastic water bottles. Over the next four years sales of bottles holding 21 ounces or less will be phased out in public places. There are some places (14 national parks, Concord, Ma, and some universities) that have more stringent regulations, which is seen as another step toward reaching the zero waste by 2020 goal. Banning water bottles will not only reduce waste entering the landfill stream – the average American uses 167 plastic water bottles a year but only recycles 38 – but will also reduce the amount of oil being used as 17 million barrels of oil are used annually to make water bottles. Additionally, food vendors and restaurants must use compostable or recyclable food containers instead of plastic foam containers.

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