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How San Francisco Cracked the Urban Composting Code

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 20/05/2022 - 6:00pm in

California’s environmental achievements are something to behold. The state ranks first in the U.S. for growth in solar power generation and battery storage. It’s the national leader in cumulative electric vehicle sales and public EV charging stations. And it’s one of a growing number of states that aim to run entirely on carbon-free energy in the coming decades – a goal it briefly met, for about 15 minutes, on April 30.

Now, California is once again setting the pace on a critically important (if somewhat less glamorous) climate imperative: urban composting.

compostA composting exhibit in San Francisco. Credit: Aaron Anderer / Flickr

On January 1, a law went into effect making it mandatory for every city and county in California to provide residents a means to separate and recycle their organic waste. The impacts could be enormous – according to climate experts, composting is one of the simplest low-tech measures humans can take to reverse climate change. Allowing food waste to decompose in landfills creates methane, a greenhouse gas dozens of times more potent than carbon dioxide. And landfills are the third-largest source of methane in the U.S. Composting has other benefits as well, from sequestering carbon and helping farmers create drought-resistant crops to creating long-term revenue streams for city governments.  

Yet few big American cities have successful city-wide composting programs, particularly on the East Coast. How does a city fully integrate composting into its sanitation stream? Perhaps nowhere offers as clear a path forward as San Francisco, the first big U.S. city to offer composting to all of its residents. Twenty-six years later, its system remains the gold standard.

Building a system scrap by scrap

In 1990, when curbside recycling was still new to many communities, San Francisco was already recycling over 25 percent of its trash. Nevertheless, the city’s Department of the Environment was concerned about all the garbage still being sent to faraway landfills, so it authorized a “waste characterization” study in 1996 in which engineers looked at exactly what was being sent to the dump. What they found was shocking: 33 percent of it was organic material that could have been composted.

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“It was a combination of food scraps, sticks and leaves,” says Robert Reed, public relations manager at Recology, a resource recovery company that partners with the city. “We have 5,000 restaurants here, so we’re generating a lot of food scraps.”

All those scraps add up to a heap of emissions, plus the associated costs of disposal. “When you put materials in a landfill, you eventually fill that landfill and you have to build another landfill. And now you have to ship to greater distances,” says Reed.

So, at the city’s request, Recology, which has collected San Francisco’s refuse since 1921, launched a compost pilot program. It started at the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market and on residential routes in the Richmond District. Soon after, it expanded to include some large convention hotels. By 2000, it had gone citywide. 

Nine years later, when cities like Seattle were just beginning their voluntary residential composting programs, San Francisco made composting and recycling mandatory for all residents and businesses. 

compostComposting in San Francisco. Credit: Hayes Valley Farm

Mandatory participation scaled things up dramatically. Recology began offering free composting pails, bin labels, signs, multilingual trainings and toolkits for commercial buildings. It also meant occasional fines from the city for non-compliance. All of it was part of the city’s ambitious plan to be “Zero Waste” by 2020.

Today, San Francisco’s pioneering program is world renowned. Over 135 countries have sent delegations to study the city’s compost and recycling systems first hand. The city collects more than 500 tons of compostable materials from its ubiquitous green bins every day, according to Reed, helping to divert some 80 percent of the city’s waste from landfills. All these organic scraps are turned into high-quality compost in just 60 days at a Blossom Valley Organics facility east of the city, and then sold to local farms, vineyards and orchards.

compostThe curbside composting and recycling bins used in San Francisco. Credit: Recology

The revenue from these sales helps offset the cost of the program. “If something goes into the landfill, there’s no sale!” laughs Reed. The system also creates jobs. According to a study by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, composting sustains four times the number of jobs as landfill or incineration disposal operations. In Maryland, a 2013 study found that composting operations provided more total jobs than the state’s three trash incinerators combined. 

And of course, all that compost enriches the region’s soil with nutrients, minerals and microbes, helping farmers grow healthy crops with fewer commercial fertilizers. Compost also acts as a natural sponge – Pennsylvania’s Rodale Institute found that farms can grow up to 40 percent more food in times of drought when they use compost and follow other organic practices. In the West, where drought is common, this is a boon to both commercial farmers and backyard gardeners. Compost can even mitigate the threat of wildfire by retaining moisture from rain and irrigation. 

All of which begs the question: With the many obvious benefits and few apparent downsides, why, 26 years after San Francisco started composting, haven’t other major cities like New York, Boston, or Chicago followed suit?

New York’s composting conundrum

Not long ago, New York City briefly had its own in-home composting program. In 2015, then New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio introduced a Zero Waste initiative similar to San Francisco’s. Composting was its cornerstone. Pandemic-related budget cuts forced the city to suspend the service in May 2020. But even before that, the program was anemic, only diverting 43,000 tons of food scraps in 2017 – just five percent of the city’s total food waste. 

compostA New York City curbside composting bin in 2017 before the program was discontinued. Credit: Wikipedia

Theories abound as to what went wrong. One big one has to do with a lack of public outreach. Even the chairman of the city council’s sanitation committee admitted that no one in his own building knew how the system worked. “In my building, we received the brown bins, and some fliers,” he told the New York Times. “I guarantee I’m the only person in my building who knows how to use them.” 

Simply convincing residents to change their long-standing garbage habits was another hurdle. Former NYC Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia told the Times, “The biggest challenge is asking New Yorkers to do something different.” She related a story about how, when the department was handing out brown bins one man didn’t want one. “But we were handing out compost at the same time, and he definitely wanted the compost. We said, ‘We really need your banana peels in order to make this in the future.’” The man took one of the bins, illustrating the importance of education and outreach.

New York re-launched its composting program in August 2021 in neighborhoods where interest was most concentrated, according to Vincent Gragnani, press secretary at the city’s Department of Sanitation. Soon, there will be 100 bins at schools across the city that can be accessed with a smartphone app or a key card. “Within the next two years, every public school in the city will be separating their organic waste for collection,” Gragnani told RTBC. New Sanitation Commissioner Jessica S. Tisch is in the process of reviewing what has and has not worked with the city’s program in the past, but is not ready to share this publicly.

Can California strike ‘black gold’?

Now, inspired by San Francisco’s trailblazing composting success, California is set to enact statewide composting for all. (Only a small handful of states mandate statewide composting). The goal of the law is to reduce the landfilling of compostable materials by 75 percent by 2025, thereby reducing methane emissions on a massive scale. CalRecycle, the department that oversees the state’s recycling and waste reduction programs, estimates about half of the state’s communities had food and yard waste collection programs at the start of 2022.

compost“We all have the same goal: to send as little as possible to the landfill,” says Reed. Credit: Sacramento State

There are several things the remaining cities and counties around California can do to emulate San Francisco’s success. One is to stay on message. In 2000, when Recology made green bins available to every resident in San Francisco, the response was mixed. “Some people said, ‘Come and take it back.’ Other people embraced it right away,” recalls Reed. “We were doing a lot of outreach and education in promoting the program and why we think it’s important for people to participate.” 

For instance, San Franciscans speak over 100 different languages, so Recology opted to put photographs on the green bins (in addition to a few words in English, Spanish, and Chinese), showing what can and can’t be composted. The company also produces a customer newsletter that comes with its bills, filled with articles about the benefits of composting and recycling. In addition, Reed, a former reporter, worked closely with journalists to get stories published early on about restaurants embracing composting and vineyards relying on compost from the city. 

 But according to Reed, the key to composting success is getting kids on board. “The best way to get adults to compost is to get composting programs running in schools,” he says. Recology donates compost to school gardens, which makes a big impression on children. “Those kids go home and say, ‘Why don’t we compost at home?’ The very next day the dad has a pail on the kitchen counter, and they’re rolling.” 

Prior to the pandemic, classrooms would visit the Recology Environmental Learning Center and even take tours of the composting and recycling plants. During Covid, Recology’s programming for students has shifted online. The company leads virtual field trips via Zoom and has produced educational videos and games about composting and recycling for kids from pre-K to high school. There’s even a “Better at the Bin” coloring book.

Finally, Reed says regular and frequent communication with the city is key to the composting program’s success. Every week, Recology staff members meet with a team from the Department of the Environment. “We all have the same goal: to send as little as possible to the landfill,” Reed says. At these meetings, they compare the tonnage that the city is sending to compost versus sending to the landfill, brainstorm ways of getting more residents to compost, and discuss messaging. 

One conundrum recently tackled in these meetings was how to encourage more participation in apartment buildings, which have lower rates of composting and recycling, and where 65 percent of San Franciscans live. Their solution: recruit volunteers at these buildings to distribute Recology’s monthly newsletter, as well as encourage composting in neighborly ways, like with composting contests or quizzes. “These are very creative people!” says Reed. “They keep composting part of the conversation.” There are now advocates in 100 buildings around the city.  

One of these is Madeleine Trembley, who lives at the Gateway Complex in the city’s Financial District. A year ago, Trembley, who refers to compost reverently as Black Gold, started a newsletter for her 1,255-unit building called Trash Talk. “The newsletter immediately got a lot of peoples’ attention,” Trembley says. “It was educational, practical. We give tips that people can implement easily, understand easily.” As a result of her newsletter and the topics it covered, more young residents have gotten involved in the Board — and one of them is even making video tutorials about composting to share with residents. “It just makes no sense to create more methane gas to stow it away in the landfill. And I think a lot of people realize that.” 

The post How San Francisco Cracked the Urban Composting Code appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

When is the Conservative poverty handbook being published?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 15/05/2022 - 6:48pm in

The Tory MP Lee Anderson has recently opined that producing a meal for 30p a head is perfectly possible. Though clearly not for him. He supports a government who spent £37 billion to manage test and trace but somehow that wasn’t enough to make it work. So having continued to support that government in relentless... Read more

National Liver & Onions Day: 33. Liver a la Gourmet

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 10/05/2022 - 11:14pm in


Food, 1970s, Beef, liver, Movies

Happy National Liver & Onions Day! Today we’re going to delve into the archives for the occasion. A version of this post first appeared on the DiS1972 blog August 2, 2012. I decided to make No. 33 for my friend, Claire. Before she arrived, I assembled the Jellied-Lime Cucumber Salad and the Jelly Roll. IContinue reading National Liver & Onions Day: 33. Liver a la Gourmet →

National Salad Month: Ruth Barnaby’s Watergate Salad

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 05/05/2022 - 11:41pm in


1970s, Food, Nixon

May is National Salad Month! To celebrate, I perused the archives and am sharing with you one of my all-time favorite dishes, Watergate Salad. A version of this post first appeared on the DiS1972 blog in June of 2013. You might know this dish by other names: ambrosia, Pistachio Delight, green stuff–but I prefer WatergateContinue reading National Salad Month: Ruth Barnaby’s Watergate Salad →

NICE recommendation at last…

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 09/04/2022 - 8:02am in

A welcome recommendation from NICE at last – and why doesn’t Public Health England (now surely, in a sleight of hand, ‘The UK Health Security Agency’)endorse it similarly? Maybe it will… This is the idea that your waist measurement should be less than half your height. This is a concept which has been around for... Read more

The Supermarket That Seeks No Profits

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/04/2022 - 6:00pm in


Food, poverty

Reach across the aisle

Not every store is looking to make a lot of money. The Guardian takes a tour of Jubilee Market in Waco, Texas, a nonprofit supermarket with a mission to provide food where it’s needed.

Jubilee was opened by the organization Mission Waco in 2017 in a vacant convenience store. The surrounding area was a food desert, and Mission Waco knew residents needed a place to buy staples. Most supermarket chains prefer to locate in more prosperous areas, but Jubilee doesn’t exist to make money. It offers food at affordable prices, and pays its workers a rate higher than the minimum wage.

The funding model is challenging — Jubilee relies on wealthier shoppers to keep its sales strong during times of the month when SNAP recipients aren’t receiving their payments. But five years on, the store is still keeping local residents well nourished. “We’re flying by the seat of our pants,” said Mission Waco’s director, adding that one question keeps them going: “Can we afford not to do it?”

Read more at the Guardian

A worthy goal

When Kenya’s Black Albinism Football Club faces off against the Royal Patches, it’s more than a soccer match — it’s a defiant celebration of skin-tone diversity.

People in Kenya with albinism and vitiligo — the appearance of light patches on dark skin — face rampant discrimination, from denial of jobs to persecution for witchcraft. But on the soccer pitch, it’s a different story. The Black Albinism Football Club (BAFC), made up entirely of players with albinism, and the Royal Patches, whose players have vitiligo, attract large crowds of spectators. 

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The clubs’ matches have become a chance to leave stigma behind and compete in a sport that unites Kenyans in pride. Many players report that they are less self-conscious about their looks after playing; likewise, they say they believe their appearance at the soccer matches helps normalize them with other Kenyans. “It is not all about the trophy or funding, but our joy is when we reach out to other people,” said one of BAFC’s 30 members.

Read more at Minority Africa

Coal keeps crumbling

The world has passed another mile marker on the road to sustainability: according to a new analysis, clean power provided the planet more electricity than coal in 2021. 

Green energy’s rise has been breathtaking. The proportion of power supplied by solar and wind last year was double that of 2016, when the Paris Agreement on climate change was signed. Altogether, emissions-free energy sources (solar, wind, hydro, nuclear and bioenergy) provided 38 percent of global power in 2021.

While encouraging, there’s still a long way to go. A report found that the world must invest $5.7 trillion annually in green energy until 2030 to keep climate change from exceeding “dangerous thresholds.” 

Read more at the Financial Times

The post The Supermarket That Seeks No Profits appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Where Hunger Fell When Covid Hit

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 30/03/2022 - 7:00pm in


farms, Food, medicine

Three great stories we found on the internet this week.

The way we were

The pandemic has changed the way we live — in some cases, by reverting it back to how it once was. Hakai reports on how some Pacific Islands, faced with market closures, have re-embraced traditional systems in which food is grown locally and used for sustenance rather than sale. These shifts have had an unexpected effect: hunger has fallen as communities have gone back to growing and sharing their own food, making sure there is plenty to go around.

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A new study found that islands that remained reliant on imported food were nearly twice as likely to report food insecurity as islands that produced most of their own, such as Fiji and Micronesia. Bartering increased as well, with some communities giving the traditional practice a modern twist with digital tools. “The point is not to change too much,” said one of the co-authors of the study. “There’s a lot of management for resilience that’s been going on in villages for generations. So when the government comes in, it’s important to remember that things are already working in a certain way — and working pretty well.”

Read more at Hakai

Time’s up, doc

How will the medical community respond to the effects of climate change? A growing number of med schools are incorporating climate-related health impacts into their curriculums.

Grist takes a look at one of the latest schools to jump on board: Emory Medical School in Atlanta, which is revising parts of its curriculum to take into account the changing climate’s effect on human health. The revisions have broad reach, accounting for changes such as increases in strokes, asthma, mosquito-borne diseases, dehydration and preterm births caused by extreme heat. The curriculum revisions were pushed for by students themselves: the young generation of doctors and nurses who will confront the worst of climate change in the coming decades.

heatFirst responders treat a cyclist for possible heat stroke in New York. Credit: Brecht Bug / Flickr

In 2019, the American Medical Association endorsed the teaching of climate change’s health impacts in “undergraduate, graduate and continuing medical education.” Schools seem to be taking note. As of today, some 47 medical schools in the U.S. have incorporated best practices and educational trainings for teaching climate change developed by Columbia University. “Progress has previously felt a little slow and ad hoc,” said the faculty advisor for Emory’s new climate effort. “Now, there is momentum that seems to reflect a shared recognition that climate change matters for the health of our patients, for clinical care delivery, now.”

Read more at Grist

Wild at heartland

The concept of rewilding, in which land altered by humans is allowed to return to its natural state, is growing in popularity. But can it work in Iowa, one of America’s most altered landscapes, where 85 percent of the land is actively farmed and 97 percent privately owned?

iowaAn Iowa corn field. Credit: Rich Herrmann / Flickr

A group called BeWild ReWild believes it can. The organization’s ultimate goal is a wilderness corridor that follows the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. To achieve this, BeWild ReWild uses a mix of town hall events, workshops and op-eds in local papers to convince private landowners to voluntarily rewild parts of their land, creating a natural patchwork that can eventually connect as a whole. “Forty-six acres at a time is a drop in the bucket compared to what needs to be done,” said organizer Leland Searles, but “restoration in strategic locations can advance what we’d like to see as far as rewilding.”

The group’s ultimate goal is to reintroduce native species like wolves and bison to a state that was once 80 percent wild prairie. There’s a long way to go, but in a place like Iowa, where farming is life, even getting the conversation started is seen as a victory. “The solutions exist,” said Searles. “It’s a matter of allowing the solutions to happen.” 

Read more at Civil Eats

The post Where Hunger Fell When Covid Hit appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

The Unlikely Allies Who Saved Costa Rica’s Forests

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 24/03/2022 - 3:56am in


farms, Food, work

Growing together

These days, Costa Rica is renowned for its lush landscapes and stunning biodiversity. But the country’s future looked very different in the 1970s, when industrial agriculture saddled Costa Rica with one of the world’s highest rates of deforestation. By the end of that decade, forest cover had plummeted to 25 percent of the country’s land.

A forest restoration project in northern Costa Rica. Credit: WRI

How did Costa Rica turn things around? Much of the credit goes to a landmark 1996 law that banned deforestation and introduced an innovative payment system for farmers. The payment system encourages “agroforestry,” the integration of trees and shrubs into productive crop and livestock farming systems. Now, farmers grow crops like cacao and vanilla among towering trees, which provide healthy shade to the crops and attract the bugs that pollinate the plants. The farmers get better crop yields, the increase in tree cover benefits the ecosystem, and the abundant tropical vegetation helps Costa Rica maintain its perch as a destination for eco-tourism. 

Today, the country’s forest cover has rebounded to 52 percent as Costa Rica regenerates seven trees for every one it cuts down. Meanwhile, farmers are earning more than they did when they clear-cut the land. “We need the interaction of the species,” said one of the farmers of the agroforestry model. “It’s magic.”

Read more at the Financial Times


We’ve all seen empty urban lots that sit unused while the local government works through the often drawn-out process to figure out what (or whether) someone can build there. Britain has a dandy little solution for this problem — it allows small businesses to build temporary structures on these empty lots, which they call “meanwhile spaces,” until permanent construction can get started.

The foldable, packable, moving building. Credit: Mike Massaro / IF_DO

Now, a London architecture firm has come up with a clever construction prototype for this type of space: a building you can disassemble, flat-pack and relocate when it needs to be moved. It has already erected one such building on a meanwhile space — a 3,000 square foot workplace with 12 individual units encircling a central common area. Tenants include small businesses like a skincare company and a sewing school. It’s made of timber and steel connectors, and when it’s time to move, the whole building can be taken apart, folded up and reassembled elsewhere. In a city like London, where real estate is among the world’s most expensive, the design gives groups and businesses without a lot of cash on hand a place to operate.

It’s also much lighter on the environment. Building construction is responsible for 11 percent of carbon emissions, so anything that can prevent starting from scratch is a win for the environment. “It’s about touching lightly on the ground,” said the director of the design firm. “To send that [building] to landfill after 11 years would’ve been horrific.”

Read more at Fast Company

Making it work

A massive new survey appears to make one thing clear: the pandemic-propelled shift in attitudes about work isn’t going away.

Microsoft surveyed 31,000 workers in 31 countries. The results show that “employee expectations are higher than ever,” and that people are “making career changes that prioritize personal goals and well-being.” Some 52 percent of respondents said they now prioritized health and well-being over work, and that flexibility, respect and appreciation was more important than crushing it in their careers. There were also red flags. For instance, while remote employees are glad they can now work off site, only about half felt they had maintained a thriving relationship with their coworkers. 

“There’s no going back to the way it once was,” concluded the study. “The people who went home to work in 2020 are not the same people returning to the office in 2022.”

Read more at Forbes

The post The Unlikely Allies Who Saved Costa Rica’s Forests appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Smirnoff Madras (1974)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 11/03/2022 - 5:51am in

Here we go again! The Madras (how to do what we couldn’t) People who mean well are always advising us to mix Smirnoff with something it ought to mix with but doesn’t. We’ve got a whole list of promising possibilities that always turn out yukky. Cranberry juice used to be in the number one spot.Continue reading Smirnoff Madras (1974) →

Trade in the West, China and Russia

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 08/03/2022 - 8:47am in

A very interesting article here on EU and Russian trade shows that Russia is well integrated with EU trade and shows that some significant percentages of Russian trade were – actually are – with the EU (both imports and exports). In 2020, less than 2 percent of EU total exports and imports went and came... Read more