Photo by Colin Johnson

On the first day of San Francisco’s new mandatory recycling and composting law, its business as usual for several coffee shops and restaurants.

“We were the first in the city,” says owner Phil Jaber from behind the counter of the bustling Phil’z Coffee at 24th and Folsom streets.

The new law, passed on Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors, requires businesses and individuals to sort their trash into three bins, for recyclables, landfill trash and compostables. Failure to do so could eventually result in fines ranging from $100 for individuals to as much as $500 or $1000 for businesses. It is the latest in several laws that make San Francisco’s recycling rules one of the strictest in the country.

Inside Phil’z, handwritten instructions taped to the lids of the trash bins remind customers that their cups, napkins and food waste go in the green compost bin, while the black coffee lids go in the blue recycling bin.

“To talk about it is easy.” Jaber said, “I want to be a role model for the community.”

Many other businesses in San Francisco already have composting practices in place, and feel ready. Robert Reed, a spokesperson for Recology-Sunset Scavenger, who conducts the city’s recycling program, said that a successful outreach program has led to an increase in the amount of trash composted over the past 12 months — from 400 to 500 tons per day.

Cecilia Baez, a manager at Papalote’s on 24th Street said they leave it up to their dishwasher to ensure trash winds up in the right bin, and feels confident they’re ready for the new law.

At Chavitas #2, also on 24th Street, Yesenia Quezada said that while the small restaurant already separates its own trash, they might have some issues with the small trash bin on the sidewalk outside their door, since any passer-by can drop their trash in, and no one wants to sort through it.

Meanwhile, at Anthony’s Cookie’s on Valencia Street, a green bin sat by the back door, which employee Jessica Che says arrived a few weeks ago, in time for the new law.

For anyone that doesn’t comply, Jaber says, “fine them, let them learn.”

Residents and businesses can order green composting bins from the Recology-Sunset Scavenger website here.

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Armand is a photojournalism and multimedia student at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, and is originally from Baton Rouge, La. His work history includes being a paper pusher in Los Angeles and a youth program coordinator in Ramallah, and is currently a student editor at Mission Local, which means he gets to read a lot of news and tell people what to do.

He also waits for the day when bacon and buffalo sauce combine on one plate.

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  1. San Francisco’s mandatory recycling law has been in effect for over two weeks and it’s about time. While our city leads the nation with the most comprehensive mandatory recycling law, the step we’ve been missing is green recycling in apartments.

    I began composting 6 months ago. At first it was frustrating because there isn’t a green bin in our building. I’ve been advocating for about 9 months to get a green bin but my building’s Board of Directors are slow to enact the request. For now, I take my compost bag every week to my neighbor’s green bin.

    Even though I don’t have a green bin in my building (yet!), I found composting to be really easy. I use compostable liners and keep a big bowl on the kitchen countertop and I throw all my veggie peels, coffee grind, tea bags, paper towels and other compostable items.

    I am so proud to live in a city where we are leading the charge to be zero waste by 2020.

    People need to realize that everyone can make an impact and that it’s the little things done by everyday people that will count toward climate change.