This piece ran in the San Francisco Examiner.
San Francisco loves recycling. We have a zero percent waste goal by the year 2020. We have curbside recycling. We have containers in our cafes and at our public events.
That love has not, however extended to our very hard-working recyclers. Whether we are talking about the grandmother of Chinese descent who supplements her household income with recycling income, or the indigenous Latino who pays his electricity bill with the proceeds, they seem to be making more affluent people uncomfortable with their very presence. Take a recent community meeting Supervisor Jane Kim held in the South of Market regarding a new recycling center opening in the neighborhood. One would have thought a halfway house for violent sexual predators was being considered. One child present was even brought to tears by opponents’ vitriolic yelling as her parent rushed her outside. Neighbors literally screamed how recycling would bring violent crime and a string of other societal ills.
Meanwhile, Safeway, a large and very profitable corporation has been closing its recycling centers in San Francisco and across the state. As high-price condos have been built above a new Whole Foods, Safeway is trying to evict the recycling center on Market and Church streets, and has already closed several centers, including Fillmore and La Playa. Since 2013, five recycling centers have been closed in The City. As a result, the entire north side of The City will soon have no recycling centers to redeem the extra nickel each of us pays for our containers.
There is no way to reach our recycling goals as a city without community recycling — small stores are just not able to take containers over the counter, so the bottle bill depends on large grocery stores to host recycling centers. Many would say we don’t need community-recycling centers because we have curbside recycling in The City. However, in San Francisco, less than one-third of beverage containers are generated by residents at their homes.
More than 75 percent of empties are recycled by people, often away from home, where most containers are consumed. They recycle them to help the environment, but also to get the nickels. A few people, unable to find work, have resorted to recycling full time for a living. According to a study that was done in San Francisco, they are working hard, often crossing The City more seven times in one day, and working more than nine hours a day for a pittance.
It is hard, but honorable work.
Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors, under the leadership of Supervisor Eric Mar, will be considering a resolution that calls on Safeway to halt the closures and to encourage the opening of recycling centers around The City. It is time to spread that love San Francisco is known for to those hard-working recyclers who make The City a greener, cleaner place.
Jennifer Friedenbach is the executive director of San Francisco’s Coalition on Homelessness.