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Recology – Waste Zero

02/26/13 | by John Casazza | City

Every third Saturday of the month Recology offers the community a tour of its facilities in the south of San Francisco and a view of its Artist in Residence Program.  So Slow Food San Francisco, with an interest in food, ecology, and culture, reserved a space for its members at the latest tour to learn more about San Francisco’s premier waste collection and recycling service.

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Recology is a one hundred percent employee owned company based in San Francisco. Through its subsidiary companies, Recology Sunset Scavenger, Recology Golden Gate, and Recology San Francisco, the company provides collection, recycling, compost and disposal services.  One of the most successful companies of its kind in the United States, Recology has helped the City of San Francisco reach its current diversion rate of eighty percent.

Recology’s mantra is Waste Zero, and the company’s CEO Michael J. Sangiacomo explains on the company’s website that, “it means using resources wisely, generating waste only as necessary, and finding ways to use those waste products in ways that benefit the environment.  It means landfilling only those materials we haven’t yet figured out a use for.  We are passionate and committed to reducing waste and recycling everything we can.”

We were met by Recology’s Artist in Residence Program Coordinator, Sharon Spain, who welcomed us and started the presentation by describing Recology’s many programs.  Having pioneered the three bin system, Recology continues to educate the public about what can be recycled and composted in the city. She explained that recyclable materials such as aluminum and tin cans, hard plastics, glass bottles, and dry paper can be put in the blue bin.  Organic waste like kitchen scraps, yard cuttings, and wet or food soiled paper are put in the green bin.  Materials that can not be recycled or composted, such as soft plastics, Styrofoam, and broken dishes and glassware, are put in the black bin.

Sharon went on to explain that the Recology Artist in Residence Program was founded in 1990 at the same time that curb-side recycling was being established in the city and county of San Francisco and that education was an integral part of getting people to recycle.  Conceived by Jo Hanson, the Artist in Residence Program was the most innovative element of the education plan and the first program of its kind in the United States. Jo was a guiding force for the program and served as a member of the program’s board from 1990 until she passed away in March, 2007.

Besides the group from Slow Food there were approximately 20-25 others on the tour including a group from the California Academy of Sciences, local artists, and people from around the Bay Area and the young and old.  The presentation was in the Recology complex at 401 Tunnel Avenue.  The main auditorium’s walls are lined with samples of the different recycling materials, the explanation of the segregation of the trash, various brochures and lists, and a projector and screen.

After the sit down session, Micah Gibson took over for the tour of the Artist in Residence Studio and the Recology compound.  Artists Julia Goodman and Jeff Hantman were in that day.  Julia talked to us about her interest in the history and fabrication of “rag paper.”  Scavengers in the 19th and early 20th centuries collected pieces of cloth or rags to use to make a high quality and durable paper material.  Julia uses supplies she gets from the refuse to make her own pulp, and presses it into her carved molds to create sculptural relief works. Jeff uses the many samples of wood he gets from the trash to make three-dimensional forms that become the basis for his paintings.  Both Julia and Jeff scavenge in the facility’s Public Disposal and Recycling Area and say there is a wealth of materials to work with to make their art.  Jeff even said that the amount of material that caught his creative attention could even become a distraction from his focus on the project at hand.  Their residency ends in late January with a show of their work on the 25th and 26th of the month. More information about their exhibition can be found at: www.recologysf.com/air

We left the studio and next stopped at the Household Hazardous Waste Facility where businesses and the general public can drop off batteries, fluorescent light bulbs, paint, pesticides, used cooking oil, cleaning solutions and other hazardous waste.  This is a great service as Recology works to take these toxic materials out of the waste stream and landfill. They also have a pick-up program for people who are unable to bring these materials into the facility themselves.

As we were walking towards the sculpture garden we came across Gigi from Fiji.  Living in San Francisco, we know that seagulls, besides being natural scavengers, are a nuisance.  The sheer number of birds becomes a problem at Recology’s transfer station, so their ecologically sensitive solution is to use birds of prey to scare and chase the pests from the site. Gigi is a peregrine falcon imported from Fiji and she, along with a California sourced peregrine falcon and two Harris Hawks, are brought to the facility each day by a professional handler who works with the birds. The falcons and hawks fly around the facility and use their natural reputations as predators to scare the seagulls.

We continued to the sculpture garden, a landscaped hillside isolated from the nearby freeway and from the trucks and visible waste collection facilities.  Small, medium, and large sculptural works, created from the waste piles, adorn the hillside and are spaced along the graveled paths giving the feeling of walking in an outdoor art gallery.

On the way back to the compound we walked through the “pit” where all black bin waste is dumped before being transferred into long haul trucks that take it to the landfill.  The tour concluded with a walk past the public disposal and recycling area where individuals or small businesses dump materials that will be sorted and isolated for recycling, composting, or landfill.  Things like wood and other construction and demolition materials; furniture, refrigerators and other appliances and household items; and cement blocks, rock and other landscape materials; are brought in trucks and vans to be dumped at a per pound cost to the individual.

All in all the Slow Food San Francisco group was pleased with the tour, came away with new knowledge and understanding of waste collection, recycling and dumping, and with a greater appreciation of Recology’s work to make WASTE ZERO a reality.