SF vs. Seattle: America’s Greenest City

The Battle of the Bio-Titans

On July 6th, Seattle residents had their voices heard as the city council voted on Mayor Greg Nickel’s proposal to ban foam containers and impose a fee on plastic and paper bags at supermarkets. Starting immediately, all foam products will be banned, but grocery stores would be allowed to make a change to plastic products if they have not found a biodegradable replacement, according to The Seattle Times. Then in January of 2010, all plastic products will be banned, leaving only biodegradable choices. Consumers who choose not to use environmentally friendly bags or containers will be charged a 20 cent per bag fee at the checkout counter. Not surprisingly, retailers are complaining, as are some residents who say they already recycle their bags and reuse them for trash and doggy poop.

Regardless, Seattle is one of the most active cities in America in protecting the environment. Policies that encourage hybrid transportation, green fuels, and energy conservation technology have demonstrated Seattle’s dedication to green living. But with Tuesday’s vote, the city has shown it will continue to be on the cutting edge when it comes to future green issues.

The San Francisco Treat

The board of supervisors in San Francisco on June 9thvoted 9-2 approving Mayor Gavin Newsom’s proposal for the toughest, mandatory composting and recycling law in the country. It’s an aggressive push to cut greenhouse gas emissions and have the city sending nothing to landfills or incinerators by 2020, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

“San Francisco has the best recycling and composting program in the nation,” Newsom declared while praising the board’s vote. “We can build on our success.”

The legislation called for every residence and business in the city to have three separate color-coded bins for waste: blue for recycling, green for compost and black for trash. Failing to properly sort your refuse could result in a fine after several warnings, but Newsom and other officials say that fines will only be levied in the most egregious cases. There is a moratorium on fines until at least July 2011 for tenants and owners of multifamily buildings or multi-tenant commercial properties to help get people used to composting. Buildings where recycling carts won’t fit inside can get a waiver.

“ In any scenario, there will be repeated notices and phone calls before we even start talking about fines,” say Jared Blumenfeld, the head of the city’s Department of the Environment. “We don’t want to fine people.”

The proposal is thought to be an effective way to cut about two-thirds of the 618,000 tons of waste that the city sent to landfill in 2007. But this new proposal drew resistance from some apartment building owners when the news of Mayor Newsom’s proposal emerged about a year ago. And some residents were upset over the possibility of inspectors checking their garbage.

About 36 percent of what San Francisco sends to landfill is compostable, and another 31 percent is recyclable. By the city’s count, it currently diverts 72 percent of its waste which is the best in the nation. If recyclables and compostables that make their way to landfills were diverted, the city’s recycling rate would jump to 90 percent, Blumenfeld said.

So who’s greener?

Seattle and San Francisco are both extremely progressive cities in the U.S. as it pertains to green living. Both cities are hosts to numerous green living festivals, conventions, and continue to pass legislation that will help protect the environment for years to come. dbusinessnews.com ranked Seattle as America’s number one green city with San Francisco coming in at number two. Other publications including Popular Science magazine, have San Francisco rated above Seattle. Whichever city is “greener”, both cities have proven to be great examples of the progression that green living has had on not only America, but around the world.


Other Readings

America’s 50 Greenest Cities  

Recycling By Force

Green festivals

San Francisco: Composting

Home Composting


  1. Yesenia October 23, 2009
  2. Mike January 27, 2011
  3. www.tintbuyer.com May 9, 2011

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