Gavin Newsom's Plan to Trash Our Pocketbooks

A San Franciscan says the city's new mandates are a burden on the country's greenest urbanites

San Francisco's new mandatory recycling ordinance could send me to the poorhouse.

The city's Board of Supervisors voted in favor yesterday of Mayor Gavin Newsom's plan to make recycling mandatory in the city, and impose fines as high as $500 on people who don't fall in line. It is now known as the strictest recycling law in the nation.

Where does that put me? This is a hard thing to confess: My recycling skills are below average at best. I get confused about which item goes in which bin and, when that happens on a regular basis, I tend to toss almost everything in the trash. (Don't key my car or anything. Have some compassion.)
Ashley Dragoman, of San Francisco, describes herself as a meticulous recycler and composter. To Dragoman, this new law is a big step in the right direction.

“It seems a little extreme for some people, but if you want to make a change in the world, you gotta start somehow,” said Dragoman.

People like Dragoman -- and not like myself -- have helped San Francisco achieve a the best recycling rate in the nation, at 72 percent. But the majority of supervisors agreed with  Newsom, in a 9-2 vote, that 72 percent just isn't enough. The goal is to reach a 75-percent recycling rate by 2010 and have zero waste by 2020. The strategy? Hit residents and property owners with heavy fines for not complying.
"I do recycle. I'm all for trying to save the planet and that stuff, but at the same times, shouldn't that be up to us and not 'big brother'," said John Rigamonti, another city resident. “It’s just the government telling us wat we have to do even more now. It’s very frustrating.”

Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who voted for the ordinance, said the real focus is on commercial properties, where owners haven't committed to recycling, and apartment buildings, where landlords often don't provide tenants with the correct composting and recycling options.

“I don’t think the city really wants to go out and fine people, but we need to establish laws that really guide people toward responsibility,” said Dufty.

The city still has to work out the enforcement details. So far, the plan calls for garbage collectors to tag bins with incorrectly sorted materials. The city will deliver several warnings and then come the fines ranging from $100-$500. Supervisors Sean Elsbernd and Carmen Chu, two of Newsom’s closest allies on the board, were the two holdouts. Elsbernd said the city has more pressing issues to focus on than recycling fines right now, especially since San Francisco already leads the nation with its recycling rate.

The law is expected to go into effect in the fall, but San Franciscans probably won’t have to pay any fines until July 2011.

That gives me some time to either get a bigger checkbook or figure out whether the paper the grocery store wrapped by fish in should end up with the recyclables or with the trash.

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