Seattle residents with too many table scraps in their trash can now be fined
Waste separation slackers in this 3-bin town will receive friendly notices — and eventually small fines — when caught mixing compostables with trash.
For several years now, the good people of Seattle, plastic bag-banning jewel of the Pacific Northwest, have been dutifully hauling their salmon bones, espresso grounds and leftover chicken teriyaki to the curb for organic waste pick-up.
But more than five years into one of the nation's first citywide combined food and yard waste curbside collection programs, Seattle officials aren’t quite where they want to be with their landfill diversion goals. And so, beginning at the top of 2015, Seattle Public Utilities will upgrade its curbside composting program from "strongly encouraged” to “absolutely required" status. Those living in single-family homes who are found to be slacking in the trash separation department will initially receive “educational tickets” affixed to their emptied garbage cans. Eventually, these friendly reminders will turn into fine-carrying violations.
San Francisco is currently the only other American city with mandatory curbside composting.
As reported by The Seattle Times, starting in January, city garbage collectors who are already on the lookout for errant recyclables will be taking an even closer look at the contents of trash cans as they are emptied into the back of collection trucks. These trucks, by the way, are outfitted with computerized systems that allow collectors to keep close tabs on each individual receptacle.
If a collector observes that more than 10 percent of a garbage bin's contents are compostable during a “cursory look,” they’ll leave a notice for the offending resident kindly reminding them to please
knock it off take advantage of the designated food/food-soiled paper/yard waste bin that they've been provided with. Beginning July 1, a fine of $1 per observed violation will be tacked on to the garbage bills of those who continue to fail to separate pizza crusts and greasy napkins from the rest of their trash.
And apartment dwellers and businesses aren’t off the hook. Dumpsters will be routinely scrutinized for compostable items that shouldn't be comingling with run-of-the-mill, landfill-bound waste. As with single-family homes, inspectors are looking for instances where 10 percent or more of the refuse in question is composed of items that should have been chucked into a food and yard waste bin. Differing from single-family homes, apartment complexes and businesses will be issued two warnings. A third offense will result in a $50 fine.
Tim Croll, solid waste director of Seattle Public Utilities, explains to the Times that the beefed-up rules aren’t strictly to punish non-separators while generating cash for the city: “The point isn’t to raise revenue. We care more about reminding people to separate their materials.”
Since 2009, the city has only amassed $2,000 in fines from residents who have been nabbed repeatedly tossing their recyclables — glass jars, plastic bottles aluminum cans and the like — into their trash cans.
As with the recycling penalties, SPU believes that the new composting ordinance won’t result in significant revenues but will generate an estimated 38,000 additional tons of compostable waste per year. Through the law, passed with flying colors by the Seattle City Council earlier this week with a 9-0 vote, officials hope to reach a landfill diversion rate of 60 percent by the end of 2015.