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Small Business Commission: Businesses Shouldn’t Have to Hoard Recyclables

The Small Business Commission says the current system of redeeming recyclables at businesses doesn’t work and San Francisco needs new solutions in the absence of central recycling centers.

The Commission discussed a letter they wrote to legislators at their May 9 meeting that outlines their support for the new legislative changes, and to underline the current challenges faced by small businesses.

“The Small Business Commission finds the default requirement to have small businesses collect and redeem bottles and cans due to the lack of recycling centers, is contraindicated to maintaining clean healthy environment in the small business and for the residents that reside above the business,” commissioners wrote to State Senator Mark Leno and Assemblymembers David Chiu and Phil Ting.

Currently, businesses are required to collect recyclables for redemption. But there is not sufficient access to recycling centers, which have dwindled in number in recent years and are concentrated in the City’s southeast corner.

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The State law governing the program, known as the Bottle Bill, is formulated to accommodate recycling at businesses with large storage areas, such as grocery store parking lots. San Francisco businesses, by contrast, do not have the space to accommodate high volumes of recyclable materials.

Changes in the California Public Resource Code seek to give businesses more flexibility when dealing with the logistics of removing recyclables.

The Commission’s letter goes on to support the legislative changes’ proposed remedies, which could include “a mobile redemption service that would travel to various neighborhoods, establishing reverse vending machines at various supermarkets or retail stores, or allowing for a handful of smaller sites to provide redemption options” in compliance with State law.

Muni’s Impact on Small Business

From transit-only lanes to the loss of parking spaces, neighborhood activists have been using the Commission as a venue to criticize San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency for projects that they say put small business in jeopardy. This meeting was no different.

Staffpeople from various departments within the SFMTA gave presentations on a variety of topics, including the agency’s public outreach—focusing on small businesses—the residential parking permit program, capital projects and improvement projects on Lombard and Mission streets.

Neighborhood activists attended the meeting to speak during publicly on all items. They represented commercial corridors on which SFMTA has ongoing or recently-completed projects including Mission Street, Geary Boulevard, Lombard Street and Taraval Street.

Safety was consistently cited by SFMTA staff as the reason behind all their improvement projects to heavily-used corridors.

The criticisms of those who commented on each item centered largely on the agency’s re-engineering of streets to accommodate transit, bicycles and pedestrians over private automobiles, leading to reduced auto traffic along commercial corridors and an attendant loss of parking spaces.

Bob Starzel, a representative with the Greater Geary Merchants and Property Owners Association, laid out the small business perspective of transit changes as a counterpoint to the City’s Transit First policy approach.

“If we took [SFMTA’s] numbers, and they were right, and only 30 percent of people drive, think to yourself what it means to your business if now some good proportion of that 30 percent is not gonna come to do business with you,” Starzel said. “What that means is your profit margin is hurt.”

SFMTA staff will continue appearing before the Commission to address how their projects and programs affect small business for the next few months.

Polystyrene Packaging Ban

The Commission discussed a law proposed by District 5 Supervisor London Breed which seeks to ban the use of polystyrene packaging in San Francisco. Businesses would instead be encouraged to use compostable or recyclable materials.

Commissioner Miriam Zouzounis mentioned that when San Francisco required businesses to stock compostable utensils rather than plastic ones, the cost to her family’s business was four to five times higher.

Zouzounis encouraged Department of Environment staff to work with businesses regarding such costs, and Guillermo Rodriguez of the Department of the Environment said that their office would focus on encouraging business compliance before beginning any formal enforcement process.

Meeting Recap

  • San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency staff presented their countermeasures to businesses-impacting projects
  • The Commission discussed legislative changes to polystyrene use and redemption of recyclables at business locations
  • Dyanna Quizon, aide to District 4 Supervisor Katy Tang, spoke about SF Biz Connect, an initiative to encourage business-to-business purchasing benefiting small and local San Francisco businesses

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