We’ve always been recyclers.
In Victorian London, the unwanted bones that Bone Grubbers gathered and sold were made into soap and glue. The textile industry bought scavenged grease and fat from Dripping Men. And, picking through refuse, Dust Men found the coal ash and oyster shells that became fertilizer.
More recently, most of us have defined the food we don’t use as garbage. Now though, like London’s Bone Grubbers, Dripping Men, and Dust Men, California envisions a second life for our organic waste.
Recycling Organic Waste
We could say that our story starts with a garbage barge called the Mobro. A group of investors hoped to make some money by turning garbage from a Long Island town into electricity. But, when the Mobro picked up the waste, no town inside or outside the U.S., would accept it. Finally, they brought it home to Brooklyn and burned it.
However, their plight put a spotlight on a growing landfill crisis. This 2019 newscast looks back at the Mobro:
We have not made huge progress since 1987.
Occupying more space than all other garbage (and equal to 219 pounds a person), each year, 80 billion pounds of organic waste wind up in landfills. Becoming methane, that waste is especially potent. But now, since January 1, 2022, we have California’s SB 1383. California’s goal is to reduce the organic waste it sends to landfills by 75 percent in just three years.
Our Bottom Line: Recycling Infrastructure
The new California law requires a recycling infrastructure. As a network that transports goods and services, an infrastructure facilitates movement. Looking back at U.S. history, we’ve built a transportation infrastructure with roads, canals, railroads, and airports. We have an information infrastructure through which data travels. We also have a financial infrastructure that moves money and credit.
Somewhat similarly, California now needs a recycling infrastructure.
According to SB 1383, every municipality will have to pick up recycling. As we would expect, though, curbside service is only the beginning. The state will help households learn how to do their own composting. It also needs to help businesses create a recycling path that starts with inspection stations to sort waste and continues with the specialized equipment (like anaerobic digesters) that transforms the waste into a new usable commodity. And then that fertilizer or electricity need to reach their new home. Together it will all add up to a recycling infrastructure that California is fueling.
As economists, we can conclude with the incentives created by this boost. If the 39 million people that live in California will be recycling organic waste, we can be sure that entrepreneurs will respond.
The Hustle tells us that there is a $39 billion food waste industry that will join our recycling infrastructure. You can see that it is growing:
My sources and more: Yesterday my walk was a bit more interesting when I listened to the Gastropod podcast on recycling organic waste. Then, Food & Wine had more on the law as did this legal website. From there, Fast Company told about Vermont and The Hustle had some VC facts. However, if you look at just one past econlife post, do take a look at Bethel, Alaska. (Our featured image is from RTS.)