Recology test in SF: Throw out less trash, save on bill 

click to enlarge Gary Larsen is one of the Inner Sunset residents participating in a pilot program that offers incentives for reducing garbage collections. - ANNA LATINO/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Anna Latino/Special to The S.F. Examiner
  • Gary Larsen is one of the Inner Sunset residents participating in a pilot program that offers incentives for reducing garbage collections.

Waste bin, recycling bin or compost bin? Elliot Easom never paid close attention to which piece of trash belonged in which bin — black, blue or green — until he became aware of an incentive being offered to his neighborhood.

As an Inner Sunset district resident on trash Route 53, Easom is eligible for a discount on his monthly bill through the “Pay Per Setout” service offered by San Francisco’s garbage collection provider, Recology. The program allows customers to decide how many weeks they want to set out their black bins, which hold trash bound for the landfill, at the curb for pickup.

The pilot program began in August and is designed to give households an incentive to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills, and Easom said it’s changing his and his housemate’s disposal habits.

“The program is getting us to try a little bit harder,” Easom said. “If there’s any way we can avoid putting out the black bin, we do.”

As The City moves toward a “zero-waste” goal for 2020, the cost structure of collecting trash is changing and Recology is experimenting with new ways to charge for service.  Recology is currently requesting a 21.5 percent hike on residential trash bills to account for rising labor and fuel costs, but as Pay Per Setout expands, San Franciscans will have the opportunity to cut their costs by moving more of their waste to the green compost and blue recycling bins, according to Recology.

“As more folks continue to generate less waste, we’re trying to find ways to support that trend while also maintaining a viable funding stream for the collection services,” Recology spokesman Adam Alberti said.

The program is simple: Recology places a tag on your black bin; if you skip your weekly pickup, you receive a 10 percent discount on your monthly bill. The program requires waste service once a month, and customers can cut their bills by as much as 30 percent by leaving their black bins in the garage the maximum three out of four weeks allowed.

Heather Stark, who lives in the 1300 block of 15th Avenue, said the program lowered her garbage bill immediately.

“We don’t even have enough trash to put it out every week,” Stark said.

The program was launched in August in the Inner Sunset from 17th Avenue to 19th Avenue between Lincoln Way and Taraval Street. In November, it expanded east to Funston Avenue. Roughly 3,600 homes are currently eligible to participate, and Alberti estimates that 50 percent have exercised the option at least once. In nine months, Recology has issued more than 28,000 credits, one for every time a customer has skipped a pickup.

Recology developed the program in collaboration with the Department of the Environment after studying Portland, Ore.’s trash-collection policies. Portland picks up residents’ waste on a biweekly basis, but department spokesman Guillermo Rodriguez said The City wanted to give its residents a choice.

“We wanted to incentivize customers,” he said. “San Francisco has really embraced the zero-waste program and we thought that they should be rewarded for that.”

Rodriguez said the department would like to expand the program citywide after the rate-increase process is completed this summer. The cost of standard residential service — 32-gallon black, blue and green bins — will jump from $27.91 a month to $34.51 if the proposed changes are approved.

Valerie Meehan, who lives in the 1300 block of 15th Avenue, said she endorses The City’s approach to waste reduction.
“It encourages you to be a little bit more attentive to the garbage,” she said. “I tell my grandchildren, ‘If you don’t put your junk in there, we don’t have to pay for it.’ So now they look at it and decide.”

Gary Larsen, a neighbor of Meehan’s, said he sorted his garbage meticulously even before the advent of the program, but he’s pleased to now receive a discount for his efforts.

“It’s a great deal,” he said.

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