This month, we examine systematic approaches to provide equity including the HHW program in San Francisco, CA.
By David Nightingale, CHMM, S.C.

Last month’s HHW Corner (Waste Advantage Magazine, November 2021) provided examples of how King County, WA has addressed equity issues for some of their local businesses that generate hazardous wastes. They realized the need to provide appropriate assistance to largely minority-owned auto body shops and dry cleaners for reducing their use of hazardous materials. That led them to design and focus their efforts on those target audiences with relevant and culturally appropriate outreach and messaging.

The two King County cases are examples of equity aware implementation approaches, but were not created in a vacuum. They were implemented in concert with the program’s Racial Equity Strategic Plan in a systematic way. Just as racism is systematic, countering it also requires a systematic approach. This month we examine systematic approaches to provide equity in HHW by looking at the HHW program in San Francisco, CA, a very diverse city.

San Francisco’s HHW Program
San Francisco (SF) is geographically constrained on three sides by water and is one of the most densely populated cities in the U.S. with 3,770 people per square mile over its 232 square mile footprint. SF is also home to one of the most longstanding permanent HHW collection facilities in the U.S., opening for customers in January 1988. In addition, SF provided neighborhood HHW collection events for many years and now door-to-door HHW collection year-round. In the past few years, SF has ramped up drop-off locations for selected HHW across the city. Given those facts, you might think that most folks in San Francisco would be very aware of their HHW program opportunities by now … and you would be wrong.

SF decided to systematically probe the level of awareness of their HHW program to identify potential gaps in their service and where they might need to focus their outreach energies and program resources more effectively. In 2016, the city contracted with a local public opinion research firm to survey residents about their awareness and actions related to the existing HHW program.1 Five hundred and seventy-eight interviews with SF residents were conducted resulting in a margin of error of ±4.1 percent at a 95 percent confidence interval. Interviews were conducted by either phone or online in English, Spanish and Chinese.

SF Demographics Show Diversity, Renters and High Median Income
The survey reflected the racial and ethnic diversity of the city as shown in Figure 1. Within the Asian/Pacific Islander category, most identified as Chinese—about 23 percent of all respondents self-identifying themselves in that group. This leaves about 10 percent of the Asian/Pacific Islander group as not Chinese, almost as much as the second most populous group, Latinos at 11 percent. This demographic breakdown is representative of the city population based on the 2019 U.S. Census Bureau population estimates for the City of San Francisco, which vary by not more than 4 percent from each group value in Figure 1.2

Figures courtesy of San Francisco Department of the Environment.

Digging deeper into the background of the survey participants found that 33 percent had immigrated to the U.S. and only 38 percent lived in single-family housing. Sixty percent of residents were renters and 53 percent had lived in SF for less than 20 years with 15 percent living there for five years or less. The median annual household income in SF is more than $112,000. Sixty percent of those surveyed reported annual household income at $100,000 or less. An income-related finding was that households with incomes under $75,000 per year were less likely to report storing HHW than were residents of more affluent households.

Hazardous Product Use Varies Significantly Based on Demographics
The survey examined who uses products that often result in HHW generation. Every group admitted to using household cleaners, batteries and electronics—more than 92 percent for each group. However, the use of architectural paints, automotive products, garden chemicals and motor oil were reportedly used by minorities—22 to 30 percent of the survey respondents. Interestingly, for shorter-term residents—five years or less—they reported using even less of the categories of garden chemicals, motor oil and automotive products at only 7 to 8 percent.

The public research firm identified the following as key distinctions in products that often lead to generation of HHW:
• Residents of single-family homes are significantly more likely to use every product category
• Whites are twice as likely as residents of color (40 to 22 percent) to use paint
• Residents of color are more likely to use fluorescent bulbs (76 to 62 percent)
• Residents of the southern part of the city are more likely to use bug spray or ant bait
• Likelihood of using paint rises with household income
• Men are more likely than women to use automotive products
• Women are more likely to use bug spray
• Chinese speakers use garden chemicals and bug spray at higher rates than other language-speakers

There are many conjectures that can be made to explain the various survey findings, but there are some clear differences in what levels of hazardous products are acquired by different ethnic or racial groups as well as income, gender and geographic areas within the city. So, the follow up question is: “Are residents aware of the HHW management options available to them?”

Awareness of HHW Options
Of the various programs offered to San Franciscans, 20 percent of the surveyed population indicated that they were not aware of any of the HHW programs, with one program unawareness level as high as 43 percent. Those that were aware but never took advantage of the program ran from 17 to 36 percent depending on the demographic group. Only 14 to 22 percent of the respondents indicated that they used any of the HHW collection programs either all of the time or most of the time. One of the primary conclusions from the survey firm was that there was a widespread lack of awareness of SF programs for proper disposal of HHW.

Targeting HHW Outreach for Equity
Based on the demographics, high proportion of rental housing, language barriers and large percentage of shorter-term residents, effectively reaching and educating the residents has been challenging. Realizing these awareness challenges and demographic HHW generation/management trends, SF implemented a focused household battery collection campaign and used oil management campaign. The outreach for these campaigns targeted certain geographic and minority groups based on the detailed survey results. Figure 2 shows a Spanish language message to put household batteries in large orange buckets at large apartment buildings. Figure 3 shows a Chinese language message regarding proper management of used oil.


Figure 2: Spanish Language Household Battery Disposal in Large Apartment Orange Bins. Translation is: “Don’t Chuck It, Bucket It. If you in a large apartment building, place your used household batteries in the orange bucket.”


Figure 3: Chinese Language Message for Proper Management of Used Oil. Translation is: “RECYCLE USED MOTOR OIL, BENEFITING YOU AND OTHERS, PROTECTING THE ENVIRONMENT. Free discount coupon or cash at certified recycling centers.

These SF HHW programs are designed to provide a more effective and equitable impact by considering the findings of their systematic and detailed citywide HHW survey of residential attitudes and action. Thank you to Huy Le, HHW and Used Oil Program Coordinator with the San Francisco Department of the Environment, for providing the information and insights for this article. | WA

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) is Widely Embraced

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) is not a niche fad. It is a serious topic percolating throughout society, and it is not really that new of a topic. Twenty-five years ago, SWANA adopted their Environmental Justice and Equity Decisions in the Siting of Municipal Solid Waste Management Facilities, designated as Technical Policy T-3.5.1 SWANA hosted a webinar on DEI in December. A few examples from two other major U.S. organizations outside of the waste industry make clear why this is happening.
Slalom is a national strategic technology, consulting, and advising firm for businesses and organizations with locations in 34 cities across the US. Slalom employs more than 9,500 people and has been on the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list six years running. Prominently featured on their website is their Chief Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity Officer. Further they state that “[w]e embrace a diversity of people and views. This makes us better and means better outcomes for our clients.”2
The University of Washington College of Engineering recently completed their five-year strategic plan with four focus areas. One of those four focus areas is, “Embracing the Power of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI)”. You may ask, why? Here is what they say: “Organizations are most innovative when their members respect and draw upon a variety of backgrounds and respect the perspectives that arise from these differences. For these reasons, DEI is central to our mission of producing outstanding engineers. We commit to building a culture where all members thrive, are valued and feel a sense of belonging.”3
These organizations believe that addressing equity is vital to their continued success and continuous improvement. They see DEI as both a principled way of operating internally as well as a requirement necessary to provide the highest quality and value to their customers. Those are strong societal signals for any organization that is interested in a thriving future.

Notes—environmental-justice-equity-in-siting-msw-facilities.pdf?sfvrsn=d830007d_4 University of Washington College of Engineering Newsletter, The Trend in Engineering, Autumn 2021, page 3. To see their 2021-2026 strategic plan, go to

David Nightingale, CHMM, S.C., is Principal at Special Waste Associates (Olympia, WA), a company that assists communities in developing or improving HHW and VSQG collection infrastructure and operations. They have visited more than 150 operating HHW collection facilities in North America. As a specialty consulting firm, Special Waste Associates works directly for program sponsors providing independent design review for new or upgrading facilities—from conceptual design through final drawings, to create safer, more
efficient and cost-effective collection systems. Special Waste Associates also published the book, HHW Collection Facility Design Guide. David can be reached at (360) 491-2190 or e-mail [email protected].

Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, San Francisco Residential Attitudes Toward the Household Hazardous Waste Program – Key Findings from a Citywide Survey Conducted June 18-26, 2016, SF Environment.,sanfranciscocountycalifornia/INC110219.