Government Regulation Does Good

Last night I came across an article at treehugger about San Francisco compost (as an aside, I found the article via zite, which I would highly recommend to anyone with an iPad).

According to the article, the city of San Francisco diverts 1,200,000 pounds of organic waste from landfills each day and instead turns it into compost. To give you an idea of just how much compost that is, a BMW 3 series sedan weighs about 3,600 lbs. 1,200,000 pounds is equal to about 333 of these sedans. Still having trouble visualizing that? Think of the 5th and Minna parking garage, which has about 2,500 parking spots. Each week, roughly speaking, San Francisco fills up the entire garage with the amount of organic waste we send to the compost pile.

The folks from KQED quest made an awesome video about the journey of our food/yard/organic waste from its departure at our curbside green cans to its arrival on area farms, vineyards, and wineries. The video gets a little geeky towards the end, but it an absolutely fascinating inside view of what happens to our throw away food scraps.

The SF composting program, by any measure, is a wild success. It diverts a massive amount of waste from landfills and helps local farmers and businesses. And it wouldn’t of happened without government regulation. The economies of scale, resources, and relationships needed to make something like this work just don’t fly if one or two people on a block want to compost. Even if every individual in the city wanted to compost, many don’t have access to outdoor space or have the available time and expertise to make it happen.

In an age when the republican party trumpets the primacy of “me” and the individual, I think this program is a phenomenal example of what “we” can do as citizens participating and shaping our governance through mandates, laws, and regulations that make the otherwise impossible into the possible.



  1. James Quinn Vice-Mayor Seminole fl 33772 says

    What was the start up cost? Do you have a market for the compost? and what is your return?
    I do know that the first return is you are not useing land fill space, and that’s important.
    thank you

  2. Matt Fuller, GRI says


    I don’t know what the startup costs were. I know that the final compost is in incredible demand, and is used by many of the area farms that supply food to the bay area “food-shed.” I don’t have the numbers to prove it (yet), but from what I’ve also heard it is a profitable operation…

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