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About The Bay: SF Composting Law Keeps Leftover Food From Needy

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A prep cook cuts limes next to a compost bin. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – San Francisco businesses and residents generally get good marks from environmental advocates for their efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle. But, all that eco-friendly behavior appears to be taking food out of the mouths of the city’s hungry.

Specifically, commercial kitchen leftovers that in the past were donated to organizations feeding the needy are instead being transformed into dirt, as more groups and individuals buy into the concept of composting.

KCBS’ Mike Sugerman Reports:

“Compost is the in thing. Donating to the hungry is not so cool anymore,” summed up Mary Risley, founder of Food Runners, a volunteer organization that has for the past 25 years been taking leftover food from San Francisco businesses and distributing it to places that feed the hungry.

At its height, Food Runners was redistributing 22,000 pounds of food per week.

“Everybody has a green bin now and they just drop their food in the green bin and the city picks it up and takes it up to Vallejo and cooks it and makes it into dirt in a matter of weeks,” Risley described the steep decline in donations of local leftovers.

Overall, San Francisco’s garbage recycling rate stands at 72% nowadays.

“The more you divert and compost your recycling, the lower your garbage bill is,” pointed out Randy Martin, who runs a company that coordinates recycling programs for many of San Francisco’s hotel kitchens. “And so if you’re not diverting you’re being charged more for your garbage.”

“A lot of the food is still going,” he suggested, ” but I’d say that we’ve probably seen about 60% drop-off.”

The scraps and leftovers dumped in composting bins are turned into high nutrient soil, which is in turn sold to vineyards and farmers.

“With the composting program now, it’s just easier and more beneficial for these businesses to compost their leftover food versus taking the time to pack it and make sure that it’s handled properly and runs off to the nonprofits,” Martin added.

“You’ve got to choose your battles,” he said. “And, you know, my mission, my company’s mission is to keep things out of the garbage. And how do you do that? You try to do it the best you can and again, coming back to the logistics of donations, it’s important to do it but I don’t know if it gets done as much as it used to.”

(© 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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