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Seattle to enforce mandatory composting

| October 2, 2014

Seattle is known as a pioneer when it comes to sustainability efforts. And yet, they’re having a hard time motivating citizens to compost their household food scraps. Their solution? Give people a choice: keep compostable food scraps out of the garbage, or be hit where it hurts—in the pocket book.

Per a brand new policy, Seattle citizens will have to cough up $1 every time their garbage bins are found to contain more than 10 percent compostable material. Repeat offenders may be subject to much stiffer fines of up to $50 per violating garbage load.

mandatory composting

Seattle is taking steps to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills. From David Herrera.

We’re intrigued by this bold and novel approach, but we immediately had a question: How on earth are they going to enforce this rule? At first glance, it seems as though it would take an awful lot of manpower to sift through garbage and ascertain whether or not the 10 percent rule has been violated.

Victoria Cavaliere reports in Reuters that enforcement will fall on local garbage collectors, who will enter violations into a computer database. There is no word on how they will be expected to determine when a violation has occurred. We hope they don’t have to open and dig through every inch of every garbage bag.

So the “how” remains unclear, but the “what” and the “why” are still compelling. Cavaliere reports a disturbing EPA statistic that, in 2012, only five percent “of food waste was diverted from landfills for composting, a process of decomposition of organic waste like food, yard trimmings, and paperboard products.”

That’s a pathetic statistic, and there’s certainly room for improvement. But are fines the right answer? That remains to be seen. Other municipalities, notably New York City and London, have considered adopting similar fines for people who fail to properly dispose of compostable waste, but Seattle is among the first to actually implement the policy.

Seattle’s policy may sound strict, but Seattle residents get off easy compared to San Francisco’s stern mandatory composting law, which slaps repeat offenders with fines of up to $100. San Francisco’s policy went into effect five years ago and cemented that city as a green powerhouse.

Seattle hopes to follow in San Francisco’s footsteps. Seattle residents already recycle at substantially higher rates than the rest of the country (60 percent versus about 34.5 percent, according to the EPA).

The latest push for mandatory composting is all part of Seattle’s ultimate goal of achieving carbon neutrality by the year 2050. Either through fines or compliance (hopefully more of the latter), Seattle’s residents have no choice but to help achieve that goal.

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Category: Blog Landing Page, Food, Recycling programs

About the Author ()

Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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