June 29, 2010

Composting in Public

I had heard through the grapevine that the city of San Francisco had started curbside compost collection for its residents, and either offered the service or required it of restaurants.  These both seemed progressive and sensible, resource-conservative steps for a major city to take.  Manageable.  And I have been to conferences and catered meetings fairly often where the food provider places bins for trash, recycling, and compost out in the serving area for guests to use.  In all these situations, average people seem to either catch on quickly without help or manage to sort their napkins, plates, scraps, etc properly with a modicum of technical assistance and peer pressure.

So I must confess that finding the three-bin system in a public space, untended, still surprised me.  I ran across the containers inside Ferry Plaza, on a day it was overflowing with visitors, most of them shopping for food.  Not a soul hovering nearby to help the clueless distinguish compost from trash.  Could mere signage do the trick?  In fact, a peek inside the bins revealed as accurate a sort (it's never perfect, regardless of the setting or the crowd) as I usually see at managed events. 

While I always like to see materials handled properly to avoid waste, what pleased me most was the publicness of the set-up.  For the thousands of people who visit this site (and others like it throughout the city), and may not even have municipal composting available at home, it sets a great example.  Nothing jumps the obstacles placed before a theory (composting smells, attracts bugs, requires too much work, etc) like visiting decision-makers going home and saying, "Well, I saw it working."

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