Invention of Curbside Recycling

The first Earth Day on April 22,1970, launched the modern environmental movement. It’s also a seminal day in Modesto’s design history. The first “Survival Walk” began that day with activists walking down the Central Valley, through Modesto. The six-week walk from Sacramento to Los Angeles was organized by Ecology Action, founded by UC Berkeley student Cliff Humphrey with a group of eco-designers and activists from the College of Environmental Design to promote household recycling practices. As Humphrey passed through Modesto, he saw potential for a local market for recycled newspapers, cans and glass, and vowed to return to transform Modesto into a “model of ecological sanity.”

Later that year, he relocated Ecology Action and his family from Berkeley to Modesto. His subsequent efforts would place Modesto on the cutting edge of recycling before it was commonly accepted or economically feasible to do so. Modesto became the first city in the country to offer curbside collection of post-consumer recyclables.

Modesto’s innovative program was replicated by cities across the country and helped to catalyze a national movement in curbside recycling. It was featured in LOOK magazine in May 1971 with the headline “This Town’s Hooked on Garbage Power!,” stating that “Modesto is going bananas over recycling.” Humphrey was later named “Recycler of the Decade” at the first National Recycling Congress in 1980 and is widely recognized as “the grandfather of recycling” for the innovative community recycling programs he started here in Modesto.