The City of Seattle is fighting its way to a 60-percent recycling rate and will probably wind up somewhere between 56 and 60 percent when the 2012 figures are released. Only a handful of North American cities can claim similar rates. The highest rate, of course, belongs to San Francisco: 80 percent. And Portland, Ore., is just outpacing Seattle at 58 percent. Vancouver is also in the running at 55 percent.

ach of these cities knows the secret to a high recycling rate: food scrap collection and composting programs. Such programs divert food scraps from the landfill, enabling cities to soar into the recycling stratosphere.

Seattle’s program covers single-family homes, multifamily buildings and developments as well as food service businesses. “Seattle is a pioneer in food scrap collection and composting,” says Michael Alexander, president of Recycle Away, a Brattleboro, Vt., company that markets trash, recycling and composting bins and helps governments and businesses set up collection programs. “While Seattle has been collecting food scraps for a number of years, less than 1 percent of the population has access to food waste collection programs. So it is happening but in a very limited way.”