San Francisco | Circular Economy

The current take-make-dispose linear manufacturing paradigm is fraught with negative environmental impacts, inequitable supply chain impacts, unsustainable resource extraction, toxicity in manufacturing processes and materials, and wasting of potentially reusable and recyclable resources into landfills where they are difficult to extract.

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, “A circular economy is restorative and regenerative by design, and aims to keep products, components and materials at their highest utility and value at all times.” This take-make-reuse paradigm is akin to nature where every cycle is complete. Nature wastes nothing.

San Francisco: a model of municipal waste diversion and utilization

The California Integrated Waste Management Act of 1989 “requires cities and counties in the State of California to reduce, reuse and recycle (including composting) solid waste generated in the state to the maximum extent feasible before any incineration or landfill disposal of waste, to conserve water, energy and other natural resources, and to protect the environment.”

In 2002, the City of San Francisco set a goal to divert 75% of municipal solid waste from landfills by 2010 and become Zero Waste by 2020. Then, in 2009, the City enacted a mandatory recycling and composting ordinance which requires everyone in San Francisco to separate recyclable materials, compostable materials, and landfill trash—recyclables in the blue bin are made into new bottles, cans, and other products, and food, soiled-paper and plants that go into the green bin are composted into nutrient-rich soil used by local farms[2]. Compost is beneficial for the land in many ways, including as a soil conditioner, a fertilizer, addition of vital humus, and as a natural pesticide for soil.

In 2012, San Francisco diverted nearly 80% of its municipal solid waste from landfills – the highest rate of any major U.S. city.

Other innovative initiatives by the City of San Francisco: [1]:


[1] Managing and Transforming Waste Streams—A Tool for Communities

[2] How San Francisco’s mandatory composting laws turn food waste into profit, Arizona Republic


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