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Scott Wiener's proposal aims for food, not cash, from recyclers

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If a newly elected San Francisco supervisor has his way, people who redeem their empty bottles and cans at recycling centers would be offered food vouchers instead of cash.

Under California law, supermarkets must offer onsite redemption of recyclables or be located within a half-mile of a stand-alone recycling center. The law is designed to make it easier for customers to recover the surcharge they pay when purchasing products with a recyclable component.

But following long-standing complaints that such centers can encourage unsavory characters to congregate at grocery recycling outlets, Supervisor Scott Wiener is hoping to encourage the Board of Supervisors to lobby for changes to the state law that mandates cash compensation.

And he wants to make the changes applicable to all recycling centers.

For years, neighbors of the Safeway store on Market Street between the Mission district and Lower Haight have complained about the undesirable behavior of recyclers pushing carts full of waste through the neighborhood. Wiener, a local resident and former president of the Castro/Eureka Valley Neighborhood Association, said it is the alcoholics, drug dealers and homeless encampments he is worried about.

So he hopes to convince his fellow supervisors to lobby Sacramento for a law that would require recyclers to pay people with food, not cash.

“We want to have recycling centers that give lower-income people what they need,” Wiener said.

Although grocery stores in some states provide onsite recycling redemption using food vouchers redeemable within the store, The City’s Department of the Environment said no other states mandate such alternative compensation.

Environment Department spokesman Mark Westlund said Wiener has been talking to the agency about how to frame his proposal, which he is still formulating.

Wiener said he would need a lot of local support, including from the Board of Supervisors, which he said could take months, before he takes it to Sacramento.

Representatives of neighborhood groups such as the Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association and the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District said they are hungry for change.

“I wouldn’t say that the recycling center is the cause of it, but it’s no secret that there are societal issues that happen around that site,” said Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association Chair Dennis Richard.

The Safeway center, which is operated by San Francisco Community Recyclers, happens to be one of two centers run by Executive Director Ed Dunn. Dunn also operates the Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood Council recycling center that was recently handed a March 4 eviction notice. He found Wiener’s proposal offensive.

“They’re the centers abutting the wealthiest parts of town,” Dunn said. “Why don’t they offer them a gas card too?”

The manager of a photo shop across Market Street from Safeway shares Dunn’s skepticism about the proposal.

“I have no problems with it,” Manager Chris Koperski said of the recycling center. “It’s just the nature of The City.”

kkelkar@sfexaminer.com