Welcome to Future. This is my last issue of the newsletter.
Future is in great hands. Bryan Walsh, most recently the author of "End Times," is joining Axios and will be at the helm. And I’ll still be at Axios, continuing to write about some of the big trends roiling society. Look out for my byline in this newsletter and in Axios’ many others (Sign up for them here!).
Today's Future is 1,188 words — a 4 1/2 -minute read. Here we go...
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios
MANASSAS, Va. — The American recycling industry is in crisis — and cities are on the front lines, Axios' Kim Hart and I write.
The big picture: The economics undergirding the U.S. recycling system have fallen apart. Unable to absorb the extra cost, some cities are opting to kill recycling programs altogether — just as public concerns about climate change are ratcheting up.
"The market for recycling has had a lot of shock," says Marian Chertow, a professor at Yale's School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. "Cities are thinking, 'Hm, is this really worth it?'"
How it works: A major recycling center in the Washington, D.C. suburbs used to turn a healthy profit from processing recycled materials from a 50-mile radius. Now it's having to pay vendors to truck material away and is re-negotiating decades-old contracts with cities at higher rates — and explaining to consumers why they suddenly have to pay for curbside pickup.
What we're seeing: Axios paid a visit to the center run by Republic Services in the heart of Prince William County. It operates up to 22 hours a day to process about 550 tons of thrown out paper, plastic, aluminum and glass delivered there daily.
Manassas is not alone. Several other cities are struggling to make recycling work.
What's needed: Cities have to renegotiate their contracts with recycling providers, many of which are 30 years old, to find a viable business model, said Richard Coupland, VP of Municipal Services for Republic Services.
What to watch: "There's a huge opportunity for innovation within recycling," Yale's Chertow says. Researchers are looking at developing robots that can more accurately and efficiently complete some of the tedious — and even dangerous — tasks within large facilities, such as sorting.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
Big Tech is making a splash with its aggressive carbon reduction goals, but some of its employees and climate activists are criticizing Google, Microsoft and Amazon for nonetheless partnering with fossil fuel companies to use artificial intelligence to find hidden hydrocarbons and bring them to market, Axios' Orion Rummler writes.
Why it matters: Big oil companies are some of the richest, most resourceful enterprises in the world. They collect multiple terabytes of data daily but don't have the capacity to analyze and efficiently use that volume of facts without AI.
What to watch: Global spending on AI in oil, gas and renewable energy industries is expected to reach $7.79 billion by 2024, per BIS Research.
Some ways AI and cloud services are used for oil and gas:
Some ways AI is used for renewable energy:
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
Walmart’s expensive attempt to woo wealthy shoppers is ending in failure.
Driving the news: Jetblack, Walmart’s personal shopping startup, is closing its doors, per WSJ. The service, which charged members $600 a year for a personal shopper whom they could text to get anything delivered — except fresh food — was costing the company thousands of dollars because it just never gained much popularity.
Jetblack was only available in New York City. Still, "in a city of 8+ million people, fewer than 1,000 were signed up for Jetblack as of last year," according to Retail Brew.
The big picture: Walmart and Amazon have long dominated two different cohorts of shoppers. While Walmart reigns over redder, more rural and lower-income America, Amazon commands the larger, liberal metros.
Curbing immigration won’t stop America’s accelerating racial diversity (Stef Kight — Axios)
The ride-hail utopia that got stuck in traffic (Eliot Brown — WSJ)
Coronavirus is a data time bomb (Alexis Madrigal — The Atlantic)
America's first undergrad degree in weed (Jenni Avins — Quartz)
Sex, bots and audiotape (Zoe Schiffer — The Verge)
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
As I wrote earlier this week, a Future reader who's quarantined aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship has been corresponding with me about his experiences onboard.
"We are flying out tomorrow night via US federal chartered plane. ... If we don’t take the flight, the US won’t let us back into the country. ... It starts all over again."
Thanks for reading!