Seattle to fine residents who don't compost

Seattle garbage truck
CC BY 3.0 Zena C.

In a bid to meet the city's goal of recycling 60% of its waste by 2015, Seattle is turning its sights on food scraps that end up in the trash.

A new ordinance passed by the Seattle City Council's on Monday could mean fines for residents who throw too many food scraps and other compostable items into the trash. The ordinance, which would come into play if the trash collectors spot trash cans that contain more than 10% compostable waste, isn't meant to generate a lot of money or to place an undue financial burden on residents, but rather to remind residents of the importance of separating their trash.

Seattle's new regulations allow trash collectors to make an assessment as to whether a resident's trash has more than 10% compostable waste in it, and if it does, the collectors can document the violation on the trash truck's computer system, as well as leaving a ticket on the bin that notifies the resident that they will be levied a whopping $1 fine on their next bill. Repeat offenders will see fines of $50 for disregarding the ordinance, and although the new system is due to begin on January 1st, only warnings will be issued until July 1st, at which point the fines will begin.

The new system also applies to apartment buildings and businesses, although they will receive two warnings before a fine is applied, at which point they will be liable for a $50 fine. Seattle's ordinance isn't nearly as strict as the mandatory composting law passed in San Francisco in 2009, where after initial warnings, residents will be forced to pay up to $100 in fines for trashing compostable items.

According to the Seattle Times, the Seattle Public Utilities requested that the City Council consider the new ordinance because they are falling behind on their goals for composting and recycling rates, which were at 56% for 2013, but still not high enough to hit the city's 2015 goal of recycling 60% of its solid waste.

"Our growth rate for recycling has stalled. It’s surprising, but we still send 300,000 tons of garbage every year to a landfill in eastern Oregon. I think we can do a lot better than that." - Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, sponsored of the legislation

Although I'm generally in favor of regulations that try to increase recycling and composting rates, I have a hard time seeing how a $1 fine will convince people to change their ways. What do you think?

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