In the 1980s, the recycling debate was all the rage, with arguments for and against government doing it. The argument against government doing it was predictable; government is inefficient and expensive and the landfills waiting for a recycling list that would grow with every environmental lobbying effort would be the size of regular landfills.

Government recycling won and now there are giant landfills of recycling material that can never actually be recycled - all those glossy magazine pages with perfume on them, for example. Most of California recycling is actually done in China, after being shipped there in emissions-belching boats.

What about composting? Food scraps were all the rage a few years ago - even Congress mandated it in their cafeteria, to disastrous, hilarious, expensive effect, when Democrats gained control of the House in 2007. A few years later they asked Republicans to cancel the program so that environmentalists would not be angry.

But Washington state academics say progressives in Seattle, San Francisco and other places that offer curbside compost pickup should take advantage of that service and pat themselves on the back for doing so.

Food waste can generate methane, a short-lived greenhouse gas that has become the target of environmental activists now that CO2 levels are dropping, when it's buried in landfills, but not so when composted. So composting trash-bound food scraps will generate less methane. The fact that having government workers collect the stuff and ship it off to composting facilities in emissions-belching trucks and then ship it to other locations after that in more emissions-belching trucks, is ignoring the real CO2 problem in centralized government composting: It is a net emissions negative and incredibly expensive. 

Sally Brown, a University of Washington associate professor of environmental and forest sciences, ignores the physics and writes in Compost Science&Utilization that a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency model makes it seem good. But that is not science. Their model calculates how much methane is produced over time in landfills as organic materials decay, it does not consider the environmental and economic costs of centralized composting. The reason governments wanted to do recycling was because they didn't think the free market would want to do most goods and the same goes for composting. Only a government can afford to compost when it has negligible environmental value and is an economic loss. 

But using the simplistic EPA model shows a big win; it's just wildly inaccurate.

There is obviously a food waste issue in America, and about 95 percent of food scraps end up in landfills.  The solution is to waste less food and that means having those same elites in San Francisco and Seattle not throw out fruit when it develops some browning, and buy food with preservatives that lasts long enough to eat it. Then people could compost in their yards if they really care - but elites with yards are more likely to engage in NIMBYism. They like the idea of composting but not the reality of doing it locally and sustainably. Thus the emissions-causing trucks.

Nonetheless, cities like New York and states live Vermont have joined the government composting movement. It's been fine self-identification but if there is any change in actual methane, there is no way to detect it.