San Francisco, A Composter’s Dream

Dolores Park, San Francisco

As I clean up my kitchen after preparing a seven-course tasting, I sadly eye my two big containers of composted food scraps, and contemplate the schlep to the Union Square Greenmarket compost drop-off. I bag up the compost and heave the bags over my shoulder for the umpteenth time, and walk to the subway while thinking longingly of San Francisco.

I haven’t lived in The City by the Bay in a dozen years, but in that time San Francisco has gotten serious about composting. I remember composting in the kitchen at Millennium restaurant, but now every residence, office, and restaurant has curbside compost pick-up, and it’s not just for vegetables. You can compost paper, meat, seafood, and cheese.  For home composting, you simply collect food scraps in a small green plastic bin that easily fits in a city kitchen, then dump everything into a matching large green bin that lives outside with the garbage and recycling cans. And then someone comes and picks it up!

Christine Datz-Romero at the LES compost drop-off in Union Sqaure. Photo: Steven Burke, from the New York Times.

I dearly love the Lower East Side Ecology Center, the wonderful non-profit that has operated a compost drop-off at Union Square for decades, and with limited resources operates a composting facility that turns New Yorkers’ kitchen waste into rich, black potting compost. But how I would rejoice if my compost could be picked up from my door in Brooklyn!

San Francisco’s citywide composting program began in 2009, and it’s run by the city’s private garbage company, Recology. The company picks up about 400 tons of compost a day, and brings it to a 22-acre facility north of the city, where it’s turned into compost that’s reportedly being used by wineries in Napa and Sonoma. How cool is that?

Since San Francisco started this program, city officials say that they’ve diverted 80% of waste away from landfills, and are on track to become the country’s first waste-free city. I think that’s pretty incredible. I’m sure there is no shortage of reasons why compost pick-up in New York City would pose a challenge, but the collecting and disposing of New York’s residential trash costs over $400 million a year, and all of it has to be moved out of the city via high-polluting diesel garbage trucks. It seems like reducing our trash output by a means like curbside composting would be a valuable solution.

Sculpture, Dolores Park, San Francisco

Until New York City changes its policies and starts to support composing in a significant way, I will continue to compost, but I will be California dreamin’ of those little green bins in San Francisco.

13 thoughts on “San Francisco, A Composter’s Dream

  1. Hi Louisa, there’s always hope! Let’s keep our fingers crossed that NYC will catch up to San Francisco. It really is a shame to know that most people’s organic waste goes to… well, waste.

    On a separate note, thank you for sharing information about the Persian Festival in NYC next month on Facebook – I don’t know if I would have heard about it otherwise and it looks like the market and parade will be fantastic! Will you have a booth there? It would be so lovely to meet you in person!


    1. Hey Radina,

      I’m so glad you saw the post about the Shurka Bazaar! You reminded me I need to post about it on this site — right now! Let other people know about it, it should be really cool. I don’t think I’ll be able to be there, but I’ll be doing a bunch of events in NYC starting in May, I would love to meet you!

  2. That would be lovely! I’ll keep an eye out for your events here, but please feel free to also e-mail me directly at email hidden; JavaScript is required when you know when you’ll be in the city.

    1. Would love to meet up with you! Let’s try to remember to email each other in June or July — with book release madness, things sometimes fall through the cracks…

  3. We don’t have curbside composting here (we do recycle plastics etc.) but for years I have used a compost tumbler in my backyard. All the compost I need for my home garden, any leftovers I spread on the lawn.

  4. Toronto has a municipal composting program that is first rate. I similarly miss it, now that I live in Cambridge MA. We at least have a yard compost, so it’s only four floors down to get the dirty deed done. I am very impressed that you take your compost on the subway. That’s dedication! Imagine if everyone took stewardship of kitchen scraps so seriously. Thanks for the inspiration to keep marching down those four flights.

    1. Oh, I didn’t know that about Toronto, that is so great! Thanks for stopping by Leah, I love the recipes on your blog – perhaps most especially the Outside-the-box Chocolate-covered Toffee Matzoh!

  5. I live in Berkeley and very much enjoy our curbside composting service here as well. It is amazing how we fill the green bin as higher than the garbage can with yard clippings, food scraps, vegetable peelings, pizza boxes, etc. It is so awesome to have. Having a worm bin is another great alternative to composting but in NYC there probably isn’t room for that. ^_^

    1. Hey Susan,

      That’s so great. I actually had a worm bin for a while in NYC! But I found that dropping off compost is easier. Lots of beautiful and inspiring images on your website, especially of your sweet little one. Thanks for stopping by!

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