Departamento del Medio Ambiente de San Francisco

Refuse Separation Compliance Law - FAQ (City Departments)

The Refuse Separation Compliance law will increase compliance with San Francisco’s mandatory recycling and composting requirements by auditing the refuse (compostables, recyclables, and trash) of large producers, and requiring them to engage staff (“Zero Waste Facilitator”) to ensure adequate material separation, when necessary. The Refuse Separation Compliance law only applies to Large Refuse Generators, which are defined as:

  • Accounts with a roll-off compactor, OR
  • Accounts that have at least 40 cubic yards or more of uncompacted refuse service per week. Refuse service includes all hauler serviced collection bins containing recyclables, compostables and trash.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQ)

What is a Zero Waste Facilitator?

A Zero Waste Facilitator is a qualified person(s) who serves exclusively in helping a property comply with adequate refuse separation. This service may include sorting refuse before final collection by the hauler and providing separation compliance feedback or education to property managers and tenants. As a resource, the Department of the Environment (SF Environment) will keep an updated list of known Zero Waste facilitators on their website indicating those who have attended a training conducted by the Department.

View a list of identified Zero Waste Facilitators.

The Department of the Environment (SF Environment) created a template Zero Waste Facilitator Job Description intended to assist property managers and owners who may need to hire a Zero Waste Facilitator or create a designated position among existing facilities staff.

How is an audit conducted?

A property’s collected refuse will be visually inspected by SF Environment or Recology to determine the percent contamination in a designated recycling, composting or trash stream. Auditors will photograph and document identified contamination and determine if the quantity of contamination has exceeded acceptable levels.

When will my property be audited?

  • City Department locations shall be subject to audits from July through January only.

How can a property assess its compliance before a required audit?

A property can do a self-assessment through visual inspections before materials are placed in final collection bins. This can be done by intercepting material being brought from different locations within a property, such as in offices, kitchens, or buses. Resources include:

What are the audit requirements?

If refuse contents are found to exceed contamination levels (unacceptable materials found in a designated bin) set by SF Environment, then the Large Refuse Generator will be deemed out of compliance. Contamination levels are set based on the ability to process and market materials and make progress toward zero waste. These levels may be adjusted once per year. Contamination limits for passing an audit under this ordinance are as follows:

Contamination limits for composting

  • If the volume of unacceptable materials is under 5% AND does not include glass, e-waste, or hazardous waste: PASS
  • If the volume of unacceptable materials is above 5% OR includes any glass, e-waste, or hazardous waste: FAIL

Contamination limits for recycling

  • If the volume of unacceptable materials is under 10% AND does not include e-waste or hazardous waste: PASS
  • If the volume of unacceptable materials is above 10% OR includes e-waste or hazardous waste: FAIL

Contamination limits for landfill (trash)

  • If the volume of unacceptable materials is under 25% AND does not include e-waste or hazardous waste: PASS
  • If the volume of unacceptable materials is above 25% OR includes e-waste or hazardous waste: FAIL

What is required if a property fails an audit?

If a Large Refuse Generator fails an audit conducted by SF Environment or Recology, then SF Environment must issue a report on the findings of the audit, which includes photos of contamination along with a Notice of Noncompliance and an Order. The Order will require remedial actions that the property must take, including:

  • Engaging the services of a Zero Waste Facilitator for at least 24 consecutive months at a sufficient capacity.
  • Presenting a compliance plan and documentation of hiring a Zero Waste Facilitator within 60 days of the City Compliance Order.

What if a Zero Waste Facilitator is not available within 60 days of a City Order?

SF Environment may allow an extension longer than 60 days to City departments based on the departments’ need to seek budget authorization. Any department seeking such an extension must provide a written explanation of the need for additional budgetary authority and the anticipated steps and timeline for seeking that authority. Upon receiving the required budget authorization, the department shall provide an update regarding its timeline for engaging a Zero Waste Facilitator. 

Have Zero Waste Facilitators been successful?

Over 80 properties in San Francisco utilize Zero Waste Facilitators. Properties with facilitators have been able to reduce trash and/or increase recycling or composting resulting in an increased recovery (diversion) rate and discount on their Recology refuse bill. They also can help properties avoid refuse contamination charges. In many cases, Zero Waste Facilitators have been shown to provide a net financial savings to a property.


Resources

Refuse Separation Compliance Law

Recycle, compost, landfill bins