Recology’s composting crusade (2023)

It takes a different kind of mindset to embrace the unconventional. So, perhaps it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the city synonymous with the counterculture would be the one to reconsider how waste is collected and processed.

Back in the 1990s, the city of San Francisco conducted a series of waste characterization studies in hopes of reducing the city’s landfill volumes and improving its recycling rates. The results showed that much of what was getting collected and sent to landfill consisted of compostable material. In an effort to handle this material in a more conscientious way, the city partnered with San Francisco-basedRecologyto come up with a strategy for collecting and composting food scraps and yard trimmings.

In 1996, Recology began collecting food waste at the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market. Within two months, Recology expanded its organics collection program to include meal prep and plate scraping waste from large hotels in the city. Around the same time, the company invested in building a compost facility outside the city to convert this new waste stream into nutrient-rich soil.

In 2001-‘02, the program gained more steam as Recology rolled out a voluntary curbside organics collection program across the city. Then, in 2009, city officials passed an ordinance requiring all properties in San Francisco to recycle organics, making it the first major city to implement such a regulation.

Robert Reed, PR manager for Recology, says that more than 100,000 properties in San Francisco including single-family homes, apartments and commercial buildings currently participate in the program. Over the last three years, volumes of food scraps and yard trimmings have escalated from 174,841 tons in 2017, to 179,985 tons in 2018, to 181,825 tons in 2019.

To date, the city’s organics program has helped divert more than 2 million tons of compostable material from landfill. Measured in tons collected per day, curbside composting has surpassed curbside recycling in San Francisco by volume.

(Video) A Look Inside a Recology Compost Audit

Despite mandatory participation, Reed says that the majority of citizens have bought in to the program and that contamination isn’t a significant issue.

“We have done, and continue to do, a great deal of outreach and education to train customers that the composting bins are only for food scraps and yard trimmings,” Reed says. “Additionally, we audit loads our collection trucks bring to [our composting facility], and we employ zero waste specialists who work with large customers to train their employees to sort properly.

“We also work with the city in providing a lot of information about the importance of composting to San Francisco schoolteachers and students. … After learning about the environmental benefits achieved through San Francisco’s composting program, students teach their parents to compost, and the parents listen and respond. As a result of these and other efforts, curbside composting has become part of the culture of San Francisco. Everyone does it and the contamination, in most cases, is minimal.”

Processing protocols

Once Recology trucks collect the city’s organics, they deliver the compostable material to the company’s West Wing facility, which is located at the Recology San Francisco Transfer Station.

Inside, a crane operator top loads the material into long-haul trucks that take it toBlossom Valley Organics North, a large outdoor compost facility that the company operates near Modesto, California.

Recology says there are 11 steps to its composting process. Once non-compostable materials such as plastic bags and other contamination is removed, compostable material is passed through a series of zones, screens, windrows and other stages over 60 days to produce the finished product.

(Video) Recology Organics - Compost Combats Climate Change

According to the company, it stores soil amendments such as sandy loam, rice hulls, redwood sawdust and minerals on site and uses them to make custom compost blends that match the specific needs of area farms.

Recology’s composting crusade (1)

Taking it to market

Most of the compost Recology makes is sent off to farms, vineyards and orchards, while some is also sent to landscape supply yards. Still, some other compost the company generates is donated to school and community gardens.

The reasons for the demand in agricultural use are many, says Reed.

Recology’s composting crusade (2)

“Compost feeds the microbial colonies in farm soils, which are composed of microorganisms that make nutrients and minerals available to the roots of plants,” Reed says. “Farmers call this ‘switching on the life web’ in the topsoil. Compost also softens soil, allowing plant roots to travel farther and reach more nutrients. Bigger root structure means more healthy plants and more yield. Also, good, quality compost is 50 percent humus by weight. Humus is a natural sponge that retains water from rain or irrigation. So, applying compost helps farms save tremendous amounts of water and energy.”

Reed notes thatThe Rodale Institute, which has been conducting organic agriculture research since 1947, has demonstrated through more than 30 years of side-by-side field trials that farms can grow 30 percent more food in times of drought by farming naturally with compost.

Additionally, Reed says that many farms and vineyards in Northern California use Recology compost to grow cover crops such as mustard that pull carbon out of the atmosphere and sequester it in the soil.

(Video) Better at the Bin

“Combining the two actions—collecting food scraps in cities to make compost and using it to grow carbon-fixing cover crops—is a new approach. This hybrid program is a highly effective way to return carbon to the soil where it belongs,” Reed says.

Recology’s composting initiatives and its benefits were recently highlighted in the documentary,Kiss the Ground, that debuted on Netflix on Sept. 22. In the documentary, Reed professes the benefits of composting for helping eliminate carbon-producing organics from landfill while simultaneously helping farms produce fertile crops and soils capable of sequestering atmospheric CO2.

If embraced on a more macro scale, this type of circular approach to waste has the capacity to help curb climate change while supporting thriving farms, Reed notes.

“The unfortunate reality is that most trash gets incinerated or sent to a landfill. … There are continents and other really large regions that are getting hit with a double whammy of higher temperatures and drought. This kills soil. It kills life. One of the solutions to that challenge is to collect food scraps from cities like San Francisco, turn it into compost and get it onto local farms,” Reed says in the documentary.

Recology’s composting crusade (3)

The importance of taking action hits close to home for Reed, who notes meaningful change is needed sooner rather than later.

“Major news agencies reported last week that 7 of the 10 largest fires in the history of California have occurred since 2017. Climate change is very real,” he says. “San Francisco’s curbside composting collection program and using San Francisco compost to grow more food, support food security and grow crops that sequester carbon deep in the soil is a model program that should be replicated around the world.”

(Video) One of the Dirtiest Jobs In San Francisco Is Dealing With Food Waste | World Wide Waste

Spreading the seed of hope

What started out as an audacious initiative to help maximize San Francisco’s landfill space has become a model for how other communities might approach organics diversion.

“San Francisco’s composting collection program needs to be replicated in every large city on the planet,” Reed says. “One key is infrastructure. We need to plan, permit and build more compost facilities. That will give cities a place to send their compostable material.”

The interest in Recology’s composting program from outside parties has been substantial. Reed says that delegations from more than 130 countries have traveled to San Francisco over the last 10 years to learn firsthand about San Francisco’s recycling programs and the benefits that can be achieved through implementing a food scrap composting collection program.

However, more than the buy in from municipalities and government officials that is needed to change how organics are handled, is the will of the community as a whole, Reed says.

“San Francisco has reinvented the way it does trash,” Reed says. “We don’t treat it as garbage. We view and manage materials for what they really are—important resources. San Franciscans across the city share this perspective. They know that when they put food scraps in curbside composting bins, they are keeping materials out of the landfill and reducing landfill gas emissions. And increasingly, San Franciscans understand that when they compost at the curb, they help turn local farms and vineyards into climate sinks. In this way and others, San Franciscans are doing their part to try to slow climate change, and people here feel good about that.”

This article originally appeared in the October issue of Waste Today. The author is the editor of Waste Today and can be contacted at

(Video) Recology Organics - Processing


What is the new composting law in California? ›

As of January 1, 2022, people and organizations throughout California are required to separate organic material (mainly food scraps and yard waste) from other garbage. The composting law was one of 770 California laws that went into effect at the beginning of 2022.

Is it better to compost or use garbage disposal? ›

Composting has the added benefit of improving local soil quality and the potential to aid in erosion control. These additional perks are crucial in the fight against food insecurity and local environmental health — and they are benefits you won't get when you put your food down the garbage disposal.

What is the law on food scraps in California? ›

A new law in California requires food waste to be composted : NPR. A new law in California requires food waste to be composted The goal is to reduce food waste in landfills by 75%. But the measure is proving to be a challenge for both households and businesses.

Does a new law in California require food waste to be composted? ›

Los Angeles residents are now required to compost their food scraps as a new law aimed at reducing organic waste takes effect. The program, called Organics L.A., was ushered in through Senate Bill 1383 and requires all residents and businesses to separate “green” waste from other trash.

Why are compostable bags not allowed in California? ›

For a number of years, California law has restricted the use of “biodegradable,” “compostable,” and related claims about plastic bags, bottles, containers and utensils. The law ensures that consumers receive accurate information about the post-disposal environmental impacts of these plastic products.

What are 3 things you shouldn't compost? ›

DON'T add meat scraps, bones, grease, whole eggs, or dairy products to the compost pile because they decompose slowly, cause odors, and can attract rodents. DON'T add pet feces or spent cat liter to the compost pile. DON'T add diseased plant material or weeds that have gone to seed.

What are some disadvantages of compost? ›

Drawbacks of composting by-products are cost for site preparation and equipment, the lengthy treatment period, targeting final use of compost product, and environmental issues such as odors and dust. Some investment in equipment and site preparation is required or recommended.

When should you not use compost? ›

7 Things You Shouldn't Compost
  1. MEAT & MILK PRODUCTS. While meat and dairy products are perfectly biodegradable, they can attract unwanted pests to your backyard or green bin. ...
  2. BAKED GOODS. ...
  5. OILS & GREASY FOOD. ...
  6. PET & HUMAN WASTE. ...
  7. WEEDS.
Aug 9, 2016

Can I put rotten vegetables in compost? ›

Is moldy food, which is recognizable, all right to use in the compost bin? Answer: You can add moldy food (vegetables and fruits only) to a backyard composting bin anytime. Mold cells are just one of the many different types of microorganisms that take care of decomposition and are fine in a backyard bin.

Can you put eggshells in compost? ›

Let's just start out by saying: putting egg shells in your compost is okay; they are a rich source of calcium and other essential nutrients that plants need.

Are coffee grounds good for compost? ›

Some information about coffee grounds

Coffee grounds improve soil tilth or structure. Coffee grounds are an excellent nitrogen source for composting. They have a C/N ratio of 20-to-1.

Can I just throw kitchen scraps in my garden? ›

You can take your food scraps and put them to use in your garden without composting. That's right – you can take the cuttings, peels and roots left behind on your cutting board and deposit them directly into the soil of your garden.

Can you put compostable bags in green bin California? ›

No, products labeled “compostable” or “biodegradable” including items such as bags, takeout containers, coffee pods, food packaging, cups, plates and service ware are not accepted in the green bin.

Can I bury food scraps in my yard? ›

Cover food scraps with at least 8 inches of soil to prevent rodents and pets from digging them up. Buried food scraps may take from two to six months to decompose, depending on soil temperature, moisture, worm population and what is buried.

Does dog poop go in compost or garbage? ›

What should I do? Scoop your dog's poop, put it in a plastic bag, seal it, and throw it in the garbage, not in the yard waste. Cat litter should be bagged and placed in the trash. Do not flush it down the toilet.

Is human composting legal in California? ›

Now, it is. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 351 on Sept. 18, legalizing human composting. California joined Washington, the first state in the nation to approve the practice; Colorado; Oregon; and Vermont.

Can you put food straight into compost bin? ›

Leftover fruit and vegetables, whether raw or cooked, can always be used in compost. You can compost fruits and vegetables even when they've spoiled and gotten moldy. (Consider it a head start on the decomposition of the compost heap.)

Why won t Amazon ship compostable bags to California? ›

A: According to California Law, plastic products sold into California can only be labeled as compostable, home compostable, or marine degradable if they meet the applicable ASTM standard or have the Vincotte OK Compost HOME certification. That's why this item can't ship to CA.

Can Trader Joe's bags be composted? ›

Compostable Bags at Trader Joes

A huge Thank you to Lori Greiner from Shark Tank for highlighting her love for our Compostable Bags! Check out our Home Compostable Bags that are 100% degradable at Trader Joes.

Can you throw biodegradable poop bags in the woods? ›

Do not throw it in the woods or leave it on a trail. Yes, this means you must carry that smelly bag with you. Those “biodegradable” poop bags do not actually decompose unless they are in a high heat composting facility. The best thing to do is throw it away in the trash.

Can you put banana peels in compost? ›

Instead of tossing your banana peels, use them as a zero-waste way to supply your plants with the nutrients they need for strong, healthy growth. They're a natural in compost bins and worm farms, and they make an easy mulch around plants.

What vegetables should not be composted? ›

Fruit and Vegetable Scraps

Some fruits and vegetables that you should compost with caution are those with high acidities, such as citrus fruits, pickles, and tomatoes. The acid content of these foods can kill the good bacteria in your compost pile and slow down its decomposition.

Can you put onion peels in compost? ›

Every single part of an onion is 100% compostable!

You may have heard otherwise, and yes, there are a few things to look out for if you want to add them to a worm bin, but no worries, onions can make their way to your compost bin, just like your other kitchen scraps!

What are two mistakes that we should avoid when we prepare compost? ›

Avoid These 7 Common Composting Mistakes
  • You're Letting Your Compost Get Too Wet or Too Dry.
  • You're Composting Meat, Fish, Eggs or Dairy Products.
  • You're Not Alternating Layers of Browns and Greens.
  • You're Not Composting Enough.
  • You're Using Worms When You Don't Have To.
  • You're Not “Turning the Pile”
May 26, 2022

Why do people not like to compost? ›

According to a 2014 study, only 28% of Americans compost their food waste. Part of the problem is lack of access. Although most people who own homes with backyards can easily set up an outdoor composter, people who live in apartments and/or renters may not be able to do so.

Can compost become toxic? ›

As compost decomposes it can grow dangerous mold spores and bacteria. Mold spores have the potential to produce mycotoxins, which are powerful toxins that affect muscle coordination. As some of the food items in the compost decays it can also grow toxic bacteria that can cause serious illness for all animals.

Is orange peel good for composting? ›

ANSWER: Orange peels and other citrus peels are great for adding to your compost piles. As citrus peels break down, they will add phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium to your compost, all three of the most important nutrients that plants need to thrive.

Can you compost paper towels? ›

Can I place used paper towels, napkins, and tissue in my compost cart? Yes, absolutely. These items can be composted even if they are wet or stained with food, vegetable oil, or grease.

Can you put pulled weeds in compost? ›

Don't throw them away! Your garden can benefit from all of those extra nutrients, and even weeds can be composted. You could be composting leaves and much more from your yard!

How will California enforce composting? ›

But by 2024, the state will begin imposing fines on those who fail to do it correctly. "It requires cities and counties throughout the state to reduce the amount of compostable material they send to landfills by 75%," Reed said.

What is the purpose of California's new composting law Senate Bill 1383? ›

The California Senate Bill 1383 is a statewide effort to reduce emissions of short-lived climate pollutants (SLCP) by reducing organic waste disposal to 50% by 2020 and 75% by 2025. Organic waste in landfills emits 20% of the state's methane, a climate super pollutant 84 times* more potent than carbon dioxide.

What can I put in my compost bin in California? ›

Many types of food waste and yard waste can be composted at home, including grass clippings, tree and shrub trimmings, vegetable garden and fruit tree waste, lawn clippings, autumn leaves, coffee grounds, and fruit and vegetable scraps from the kitchen.

What happens if I don't compost in California? ›

Not complying with the new law could result in your trash company issuing you notices or fines. But those penalties are not scheduled to take effect until 2024. If you already do food composting at home you'll still be allowed to do that. The new year bringing a new recycling requirement for all Californians.

Which state has one of the most successful composting programs in the United States? ›

The Top U.S. States for Composting

What makes Ohio's organic waste management stand out? First, the state has over 370 composting facilities, the most overall for any state in the country.

Is SB 1383 still in effect? ›

Beginning in 2022, SB 1383 requires every jurisdiction to provide organic waste collection services to all residents and businesses.

How will SB 1383 be enforced? ›

Enforcement. The enforcement provisions in SB 1383 will assist jurisdictions, non-local entities, local education districts, state, federal facilities, and CalRecycle to achieve the state's climate goals and the 75 percent organic waste diversion goal by 2025 and into the future.

How do you recycle food scraps with California's new composting law? ›

Under S.B. 1383, instead of putting food waste in the regular trash, residents of California are expected to put it in green bins and dumpsters.

Can you put grocery bags in compost? ›

Composting paper shopping bags should be just fine, according to the EPA.

Can milk cartons be composted? ›

Food items that should not be composted at home include: Dairy products.

Is human composting now legal in 5 states? ›

Human composting, also called “natural organic reduction,” is now legal in six states and counting. Washington was first, in 2019. Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, California and New York soon followed.

What happens to bones in human composting? ›

Bones are broken down when the soil is removed from the Recompose vessel. The reduced bone helps balance the compost and makes minerals available to plants. It continues to break down and return to the environment over time.

Can you be buried without a casket in California? ›

No law requires a casket for burial. However, you should check with the cemetery; it may have rules requiring a certain type of container. Cremation.


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