San Francisco Compost Hits Milestone

City chef gets excited about the food he throws away.

By Joe Rosato Jr.
|  Tuesday, Nov 22, 2011  |  Updated 4:02 PM PDT
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San Francisco Compost Hits Milestone

Scoma’s Chef Kelly Bennett shows off the restaurant’s composting compactor.

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It’s hard to imagine in this age of Iron and Top Chefs, that a San Francisco chef would be so excited about the ingredients you throw away, rather than cook.

But Scoma’s chef Kelly Bennett is downright excited to tell you all about his restaurant’s garbage. 

"We’ve taken people from all over the world on tours to visit our dumpster," said Bennett, standing next to the aforementioned receptacle.

On Tuesday,  Bennett was in all his glory as a bin of Scoma’s organic leftovers was celebrated by the city as the symbolic one-millionth ton of compost collected.

"Really it’s an honor," said Bennett, who launched the restaurant’s ambitious composting program eight years ago. "Because we’re part of something that’s really important."

San Francisco-based Recology started collecting food scraps and plant materials from residents and businesses in 1996.  Yet it wasn’t until San Francisco set ambitious composting requirements several years ago, that the program truly took off.  

"Fifteen years to get to the first million," said Recology’s Mike Sangiacomo. "I think we’ll do the second in five."

Sangiacomo said the concept of composting was once a fringe idea. Now, the green and blue bins recycling bins throughout San Francisco have become colorful reminders of the city’s green mantra.

"Organic waste composting is the largest recycling program we now have in San Francisco," he said.

San Francisco is currently recylcing 78 percent of its garbage – with a zero waste goal set for 2020.

"Because most people don’t have yards in San Francisco, what we’re collecting mostly is food scraps from local businesses," said Alexa Kielty of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment.

Kielty said Recology currently collects 600 tons a day in food scraps and plant material. Most of it is composted and then sold to wineries in Sonoma and Napa for use in vineyards.  Recology said the program has diverted one million tons of waste from landfills.

Kielty said to achieve the city’s 2020 zero waste goal, San Francisco may turn its attention to manufacturers.

"These corporations that are making millions off these products really need to be more responsible and actually pay for the cost of recycling," said Kielty.

Bennett said Scoma’s Restaurant launched its compost program eight years ago and now recycles 95 percent of its waste. Food scraps ranging from pepper stems to lobster shells mingle in the restaurant’s green bins.

"We thought we’d need a little green can and a big black can," said Bennett. "It turned out after three days we had it completely backward."
 

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