March 1, 2004 | General

San Francisco Fire Department Recycles On The Job

Salvador Velasco and Larry Kass
BioCycle March 2004, Vol. 45, No. 3, p. 42

From a recycling standpoint, a fire station is a bewildering hybrid crossing between a house, restaurant, hotel, and auto shop. To successfully establish comprehensive recycling and organics collection programs in its 43 fire stations and additional facilities, the San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD) worked with public agencies and private sector providers. Results – 60 percent less trash, 80 percent landfill diversion and $80,000 first year savings in hauling costs.
After a survey revealed that San Francisco’s municipal government offices were lagging behind commercial and residential recycling accomplishments, the Board of Supervisors directed city departments to cut expenses, specifying recycling and composting as valuable tools to help achieve this aim. The SFFD seemed a logical place to start, with its city-wide network of over 40 stations which produced relatively large amounts of food scraps. The City used Applied Compost Consulting of Oakland for technical assistance. A cursory check of trash bins in fire houses showed: food scraps — 40 percent; bottles/cans — 15 percent; mixed paper/recyclable cardboard — 30 percent; miscellaneous trash — 15 percent.
Those statistics led to recommendations to decrease trash service, increase recycling service, and add collection service for compostables. In San Francisco, conventional recyclables are collected by Garden State Disposal Recycling (local permitted hauler) at no additional charge to generators, and compostables collected at about a 25 percent discount from trash rate. Commented Captain James Lee of the SFFD: “This new recycling program is easy to understand, and it’s going to save the Department and City real money.”
In addition to refuse and recycling volume data, the waste generation assessments uncovered other notable features of fire department structure and life at a station. The fire department is organized much like the military, with divisions, battalions, and fire stations – all of which are managed by a corps of officers in military style uniforms. Past attempts to include individual fire stations in the city’s food scraps recycling program had overlooked this important detail, and had met with limited success. This time, the department’s top commanders were cultivated from the outset, and the city’s mandated budget reduction goals used as motivation.
The SFFD Chief agreed to issue a General Order directing all department personnel to participate in the recycling training sessions conducted by Applied Compost Consulting, Inc. and San Francisco Department of the Environment (SFE) staff, and to follow these specific guidelines: Dispose of conventional recyclables only in the recycling bin; Dispose of compostable materials only in the compost bin and Dispose of nonrecyclable trash only in the trash bin. SFE provided the fire stations with color-coded bins for use inside the firehouse and for conventional recycling, green for compostables and black for trash. Over 360 fire fighters were trained during May-July 2003.
San Francisco is harnessing the power of its fire department as a leader for its municipal recycling programs. The SFFD is sending the message that recycling is important, and that it can be accomplished as part of fire fighters’ daily routine, even under the stressful conditions of a demanding and dangerous job.
Salvador Velasco and Larry Kass are staff consultants with Applied Compost Consulting.

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