Robert Reed, who is enjoying a surprising career turn as a busy tour guide at the latest hot spot here, stood smiling one recent sunny morning before 10 foreign dignitaries and journalists. They included the mayor of Genoa, Italy, and the general consuls from Italy, Canada and Switzerland.
Each visitor wore a sport coat and tie, and a yellow safety vest to ensure they wouldn’t be run down by garbage trucks.
“It’s always nice to meet new friends from around the world,” Mr. Reed said in his introduction, beaming. “In fact, we’ve had visitors from 58 countries.” Behind him stood a warehouse filled with a 630-ton mountain of refuse being pecked by sea gulls. “Come on,” Mr. Reed continued, “I’ll show you the bottles, cans and paper.”
You won’t find San Francisco’s Pier 96 in any travel guidebook but it has become a must-see destination for visitors from Afghanistan to Vietnam. They’ve come to explore Recology — Mr. Reed is a spokesman — one of the world’s most advanced recycling plants, a deafening, Rube Goldberg system of conveyor belts and sorters that, with the help of human hands, untangles a 30-foot hill of debris collected by trucks every day from across the city.
“It’s like a modern art installation,” marveled Mauro Battocchi, the Italian consul general here. “So fabulous — the people and machines and objects of our lives all working together.”