San Francisco has a wealth of…well, it seems like everything. Great views, amazing beaches, the best quality municipal tapwater in the country, day hikes within the city, bike lanes, good public transit, fantastic restaurants, art, museums, great weather, nightlife…perhaps the only thing lacking is backyards. With real estate at a serious premium, backyard space is likely deemed too costly. Most people simply don’t have yards in this town.
As an avid composter and gardener, this puts me, like many city dwellers, in a pickle. I hate the fact that most cities don’t offer compost as a third option for your trash. Perfectly good organic coffee grinds, eggshells and spoiled rice and beans go into a landfill. SF, of course, being the green city it is, has made an aggressive push toward its goal of 75% of compostable waste being composted by 2010. In fact, over 1800 businesses in SF use their green bins, which is extraordinary. Now, a conservative skeptic, Rush Limbaugh, for example, might argue that the extra costs that are surely associated with composting city-wide are simply not worth it. Hmmm….I wonder if he’s right. My bet is that, like usual, he’s probably popped one too many designer drugs, and is speaking without knowing any actual facts.
So where does all that junk I toss into my compost bin go since I don’t have room to compost it in my yard? Turns out, it’s an interesting story. Turns out, San Francisco carts all that bio-waste to nearby Hayward, where Jepson Prairie Organics turns it into a beautiful, dark, rich soil, and that that soil (which is clean enough to win certification from the Organic Materials Review Institute, or OMRI, as certified organic), is then sent to organic farms around the Bay Area to help them grow more stuff. The economics work out, mainly because there is no need for landfill space for all that material, and instead of needing to truck trash out, we instead move much of that ‘trash’ from our table right back to the farms where much of our food is grown.
Scott Cooney is the author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill). He co-wrote this article with Dan Heffernan, an avid composter, San Francisco resident, and organic food purchaser.