San Francisco Compost Makes Its Way to Vineyards

Officials and local farmers announced Nov. 24 that San Francisco residents and businesses have composted more than 620,000 tons of material, mostly food scraps, through the city’s green cart program.

By composting all that food since the program was created, San Francisco:

  • Avoided creating 137,000 tons of methane gas, which is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2) as a greenhouse gas, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Sequestered 18,400 metric tons of CO2. That is the equivalent of keeping nearly 3,600 cars off the road.
  • Created a total C02E benefit (methane avoided and carbon sequestered) of 155,000 tons. That’s equal to reforesting 35 square miles of sustainable forest for 23 years or offsetting emissions from all vehicles crossing the Bay Bridge for 311 days.

Jared Blumenfeld, director of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment, and Obama appointee to head U.S. EPA Region 9, said “The reduction in air emissions achieved through the compost program represents real progress and tell us two things. We should compost all our food scraps, and this program should be replicated in many other cities. That would go a long, long way to reducing greenhouse gases.”

These numbers are based on a current, approved protocol set by the Climate Action Reserve. In addition to reducing air emissions, by placing food scraps in compost collection carts San Francisco residents and businesses help local farms improve soil health and structure, increase drought resistance, and reduce and even eliminate the need for supplemental water, fertilizers, and pesticides.

Local farmers called on residents and businesses to increase their participation in the urban compost program by placing all food scraps from holiday meals in green carts for curbside collection.

“Local farms feed our cities. Now we are asking people in cities to send all their kitchen peelings and other food scraps back to the farm,” said agronomist Bob Shaffer, a soil expert and consultant to dozens of Northern California vineyards.

“We should never throw peelings, leftovers, coffee grounds, or anything else we can compost in the trash. Instead place all materials that can be composted in a green collection cart; that is a direct and highly effective way to help protect the environment,” said Mike Sangiacomo, chief executive officer of Recology, which is San Francisco's recycling company.

By using improved systems, modern compost facilities limit and reduce air emissions and aim to preserve as much carbon as possible in the finished compost as possible. Vineyards in Northern California that apply compost made from food scraps collected in San Francisco now use the soil amendment specifically to grow cover crops such as mustard and beans to pull carbon out of the atmosphere and sequester it deep in the soil.

“This helps turn farms into carbon sinks,” Shaffer said.

More than 200 vineyards and farms in Northern California have applied compost made from food scraps collected in San Francisco.

Recology is an employee-owned company that provides residential and commercial recycling services to more than 600,000 households and 60,000 commercial customers in the western United States. Formerly Norcal Waste Systems, the company is on a mission to transform the industry from its current state of waste management to a new world focused on resource recovery and optimization.

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