In Defense of Mandatory Composting

At Hit & Run, Katherine Mangu-Ward mocks San Francisco’s mandatory composting program, which requires – horrors! – residents to put organic waste products out to the curb in a separate trash bin. I confess that I’m not in on the joke. I mean, trash pickup is a public service, right? So what’s wrong with requiring the people who make use of it to sort their trash in a way that minimizes the buildup of landfills? If San Franciscans were being made to compost in their own backyards, then I suppose I’d find these complaints more understandable – but so long as the city is providing (at taxpayer expense, of course) a service that much of the world’s population can still only dream of, why not use some of that waste to fertilize area farms and vineyards?

Indeed, to my admittedly inexpert eye such policies are a plausible example of government efficiency: here in Berkeley, our (non-mandatory) public composting program (which just involves putting food scraps in the yard waste bin) yields a product that is then sold to gardeners and farmers, whereas the stuff that goes in the black bins has to be buried or sent off to sit on a barge somewhere at the city’s expense. Perhaps I’m wrong about the finances, and in any case I know that making fun of “green” initiatives is pretty much the H&R raison d‘être (“it’s even grosser than rinsing out your tuna cans”, Mangu-Ward says of the San Francisco program), but so far as government-sponsored attempts to reduce waste and harmful emissions go this one seems pretty unobjectionable, right?