Recology operates within Northern California and serves this area by processing landfill, recycling, and compost waste from San Francisco residents and businesses. The iconic three bin system has become a common sight in front of the homes of many residents of California. Black is for landfill, blue is for recycling, and green is for compost. One of the most iconic recycling facilities is located in San Francisco at Pier 96. It covers about 185,000 feet and focuses on recyclables. This facility processes 750 tons of recyclable waste daily. Recology is also known for employing people from nearby neighborhoods, offering opportunities to locals of the area, and includes over 180 employee owners. In addition to this station, the SF Transfer Station is responsible for processing compost, landfill, and household hazardous waste. They are also home to the celebrated Artist in Residence Program.

The USF Office Of Sustainability had the wonderful opportunity to visit Recology for a tour of their facilities. I would like to start off by saying that if one is able to do this tour, they definitely should! This tour opens your eyes to the importance of each individual’s efforts in recycling and composting, the sheer amount of waste that we make, and how we can help the environment and local community by working together with the local community.

SF Transfer Station:

The first stop on our tour was the SF Transfer Station at the southeast corner of the city. We were greeted by zero waste experts and escorted into the main art room. When I first walked in, I was in awe to learn that all of the pieces of art displayed were created by artists using reclaimed materials, everything from sculptures to paintings. The thought that all of this beautiful art was once thrown away into landfill was a big thinking point, very much like the saying, “one’s trash is another’s treasure.” Following this, we had a talk and briefing about the basics of recycling, the itinerary of the day, and the importance of safety measures such as needing to wear a mask (due to the heavy amount of dust), hard hat, and safety vest for safety precautions. We were then led to a large studio in which artists in residence create magnificent pieces of art out of trash and put them in an art gallery at the end of each period. We got to see the reclaimed materials being used, works in progress, and the creative processes these individuals go through trying to navigate through different or limiting materials. Once each cycle is done, Recology hosts an art gallery where these beautiful art pieces go for sale.

After this introduction we were taken through a pathway to get to the landfill and compost transfer facilities, where landfill waste and compostables are processed before they are trucked to the landfill and composting facilities dozens of miles away. Walking through the center we saw beautiful pieces of reclaimed art placed around the pathway. Our first stop was hazardous waste pickup. We were educated that people who have any sorts of household hazardous waste could organize a simple drop off at Recology so the waste can be disposed of in a safe and sustainable manner. After this briefing we walked into a facility that processes compost. It was large, cold, slippery, and wet. In front of me, I saw a massive pile of compost getting ready to be processed and transferred. We learned how the breakdown happens and were shown the final product: a nutrient dense soil which many northern California farmers use for their crops. It was extremely eye opening to see the sheer amount of compostable waste produced by San Francisco residents and enlightening to see that even though this is waste, it is returned to our Bay Area community and utilized in efficient ways. Next, we were guided to the landfill transfer facility. It was definitely what I imagined a landfill pile to look like. I saw everything from plastic bags to binders. I was in shock. I always knew about landfill waste, but seeing this amount of waste in front of me was shocking and made me rethink everything that I had put into the landfill the past few months.

A moment of silent reflection came upon me as we made our way out of the facility. On our way out we were shown a sort of “dump shop” where items like unwanted furniture and electronics that were perfectly usable were dropped off by residents and contractors and either resold or donated.

Recycle Central:

Wall made up of crushed cans.Our next stop on the tour was Recycle Central at Pier 96. This recycling center is a huge warehouse on the bay and has state of the art equipment to sort recyclables. As we entered we were greeted by many local workers from San Francisco helping run thismagnificent facility. Many of these people were sorting out large contaminants from a converter belt making sure only recyclables get through. We made our way up industrial stairs and in front of us were high tech robots that are able to detect the different types of plastic and sort them accordingly. These machines moved extremely fast and made sure the right plastics were grouped together. We then walked through the warehouse and saw that recyclables such as aluminum, cardboard, and plastics were pressed into blocks called bails and tightly wrapped with wire, ready to be shipped to foundries, paper mills, and manufacturers. Bails upon bails of materials were stacked into neat rows being prepared to get shipped out. As we exited the facility there were piles of plastics that were reclaimed such as old recology bins, large plastic bins, and plastic buckets.

Exiting the facility there was a lot of reflection I had to do- a lot of critical thinking and questioning about how I contributed to this use of energy and waste. The moral of the story is that completely eliminating waste is extremely hard and nearly impossible. But it is possible to minimize, be mindful of, and acknowledge the consequences of the waste that you generate and take all possible steps to preserve the environment and the wellness of the community around you.


Sources Cited:

Recology. “Recycle Central @ Pier 96 – Recology.” Recology, 29 July 2022,

Recology. “SF Transfer Station and Hazardous Waste Facility – Recology.” Recology, 21 Mar. 2023,