Singapore (from where I landed somewhat recently) is a bit behind many parts of the world regarding recycling, certainly behind the U.S. There is no mandate to sort out your rubbish in the same way as in America or even in the UK and Ireland. As a result, some of the intricacies of the recycling process have taken a bit of getting used to. I remember visiting a friend in the UK years ago and she seemed completely overwhelmed about how to sort rubbish into its various designated bins. With her warnings still ringing in my ears, “They won’t take it away if it is in the wrong bin, and I will get a fine and possible prison sentence,” (she tended to exaggerate). I have been slightly apprehensive ever since about recycling.
Earlier this year we stayed in a friend’s house in Dublin while they were away, and my husband and I spent some time trying to figure out the colour-coded receptacles. At one point I saw beads of sweat appear on his forehead as we both worried the bin men might refuse to collect our rubbish and our friends would return to a backup of 10 days’ worth of rubbish outside their front door.
All over San Francisco, even in restaurants, there are choices of bins to select from: landfill, recycle, compost, trash, bottles, cans, your own trash or the restaurant trash—yes, there can be a distinction between the two.
You can even recycle harnessing the power of nature with the BigBelly Solar system, a solar-powered rubbish-compacting bin for use in public spaces. I have on occasion (read: all the time) been confused as to what rubbish goes into what bin (despite the fact that many of the bins here also have helpful pictures to show what goes where).
For example, do paper milk cartons go in the compost, the recycling, or the trash? Apparently they have plastic lining so they should go in the trash… I am always fully prepared for a San Franciscan to let me know what I have done wrong. The other day I was at a birthday party for a friend of my four year old and I was somewhat relieved to see that a visiting relative from San Diego of the birthday boy also looked concerned as he tried to figure out what rubbish went into what bin. Despite the ‘helpful’ pictures.
I have noticed in the time I have been here that people are not afraid to say what is on their minds and to correct you when you do something wrong. I’m always worried a trash cop is going to catch me in a moment of indecision and shout, “Ma’am, pick up your plastic cup, move towards the green bin and dispose of it there, not the blue one, don’t you know how to recycle? It’s 2016 for goodness’ sake. Now move along.”
The oddest thing about some restaurants is you have to clear your own rubbish away. And it’s not always the cheaper or more laid back café-type places. Some of the posher places also expect you to sort out your rubbish, put your glassware to the side, and please stack your tray—just like McDonalds, or maybe even with greater rigour than you are required to display at McDonalds. It’s only a matter of time before the poshest of places catches on and starts to outsource recycling to paying customers. Saison— one of San Francisco’s most expensive restaurant—has already figured out that it’s good for business to require guests to pay for dinner in full before ever stepping foot inside; I bet it won’t be long before they’ll have you clearing your own table too.
I’ve been here nearly a year now and feel almost ready to recycle with the best of them. Well, just about. And not only when throwing out the trash; I’m ready to prove my reduce/reuse/recycle credentials at all times. When I’m in the supermarket and am asked, “Do you need bags?” at the checkout nowadays, I could maybe pass for a San Franciscan when I say, “No bags, I’ve brought my own, of course.”