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San Francisco Turns to Dumpster Diving to Manage Waste Streams

Dec. 11, 2018, 11:19 PM

San Francisco auditors will begin dumpster diving at some of the city’s largest waste generators to ensure compostables, recyclables, and trash are properly sorted to cut down on the amount of garbage going to landfills.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a measure Dec. 11 requiring visual audits of businesses that weekly generate 40 cubic yards of trash or more to ensure compliance with the city’s mandatory composting and recycling law, which seeks to eliminate waste going into landfills by 2030.

The once-every-three-year audits target some 400 accounts that cumulatively generate about 20 percent of San Francisco’s trash.

Those most affected by the law—and most vocal in their opposition—include retailers and grocers such as Trader Joe’s, Safeway, and Target; hospitals; and the University of California in San Francisco. Also on the list are hotels, such as Marriott, Hilton, and Hyatt; large commercial and residential building managers, such as Cushman & Wakefield; and restaurants.

A business that fails an audit will be required to hire or appoint a zero-waste facilitator within 60 days, who will spend the next 24 months ensuring compliance. Flunking follow-up audits can result in fines of $1,000 a day.

Savings Incentives

These facilitators can help businesses or other entities save money while reducing their waste flows, an analysis of audits at nine of 85 large commercial or multifamily refuse accounts showed.

Those who were audited saved money because their waste reduction efforts allowed them to cut their trash services an average of 66 percent while increasing their recycling and composting by more than 150 percent.

Opponents cited the measure’s potential fines and some logistical issues as well as the challenge of hiring staff facilitators in a tight labor market.

The proposal was amended to allow a hardship waiver for 100 percent affordable housing projects, nonprofit food providers such as food banks, and cut-flower sellers from hiring a waste facilitator.

The measure now heads to Mayor London Breed (D) who has 10 days to sign, veto, or let the law go into effect without her signature.

To contact the reporter on this story: Joyce E. Cutler in San Francisco at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at; Steven Gibb at