No major American city recycles more than San Francisco. The typical Bay Area resident throws away 882 pounds of trash every year, compared to the average American’s 1,100 pounds. One San Francisco reporter wondered whether those numbers can really be as good as they seem, and set out to track his trash in real time for one week.

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In most cities across America, throwing away trash is free yet recycling costs money. In San Francisco, it’s the other way around. That motivation plus the concern of citizens and the ambition of Bay Area public officials equals an astounding amount of waste diverted from landfills – the city estimates the figure to be around 72 percent.

But despite this program, San Francisco residents are still throwing out tons of stuff that could easily be recycled, as Mother Jones reporter Josh Harkinson found. And, they’re trying to recycle things that just shouldn’t go into the bins – things like pillows and bras. Still, the whole process of transforming rubbish into usable things has a sort of magic to it.

The journey of Harkinson’s trash gives us a fascinating look at one of America’s most successful waste management programs. Read all three parts of the story at Mother Jones.