A deep dumpster dive into San Francisco’s waste management

August 14, 2023

2 minutes, 20 seconds read

A deep dumpster dive into San Francisco’s waste management

Power Knot had the opportunity to gain first hand insights into the waste management process of the city of San Francisco by participating in a tour at the Recology Environmental Learning Center. At the Recology Center, all residential and business waste collected in San Francisco is meticulously sorted and processed based on its category: recycling, landfill, or organics.


When it comes to recycling, strict requirements are in place. Only hard plastics that are clean and uncontaminated can be recycled. Plastics and metals that are contaminated or unsuitable for recycling are sent to the landfill. Additionally, hazardous items such as e-waste and batteries cannot be recycled, and bottles containing chemicals are also excluded.

Clean and uncontaminated paper and cardboard, on the other hand, are suitable for recycling. The recycling process takes place at a massive 200,000-square-foot recycling plant located at Pier 96, which is just a short ten-minute drive from the Recology Center in San Francisco.

Recology has implemented robots that use computer vision with AI technology to identify types of recyclables before it even reaches the sorting line. This helps expedite the sorting process and reduces manual labor.

Acceptable recyclables are compressed into giant bales and transported to domestic and foreign agencies for reprocessing.


Items that cannot be recycled or reprocessed are designated for the landfill. This includes contaminated recycling and other types of trash. The landfill waste is sent to a large pit where it is compressed and eventually transported to an appropriate landfill for disposal.

Organic Waste

As for organic waste, it undergoes a specific sorting and mixing process at the Recology Center. Although there is an organics facility in Vacaville, San Francisco’s organic waste is not sent there. Instead, it is transported to the Recology Blossom Valley Organics, a vast 216-acre composting facility located 84 miles away in Vernalis, California. The organic waste is transported in a large trailer to this facility, where it is transformed into compost. The resulting compost is then used as soil enrichment by farmers.

While creating compost with municipal organic waste is indeed a commendable practice, it is important to recognize that the conventional method of collecting and transporting this waste to farms often relies on the use of fossil fuels, which can be detrimental to the environment. The carbon emissions associated with transportation can offset some of the environmental benefits gained from composting.

 In light of this, it becomes increasingly evident that finding on-site solutions to handle organic waste for businesses, such as the LFC biodigester, makes more ecological sense.

By utilizing an LFC biodigester, organic waste can be efficiently processed on-site, eliminating the need for long-distance transportation. This innovative technology converts the waste into water, reducing the carbon footprint and ensuring a more environmentally friendly approach to waste management. Learn more about the LFC biodigester here.