Nanny of the Week: Seattle imposes fine on residents who throw away food

Part 22 of 22 in the series Nanny State of the Week

By Eric Boehm | Watchdog.org

Each week in this space, we focus on government run amuck.

Usually, that means government officials wielding their power to tell you what you cannot do, by banning juice, bake sales or Chapstick, to name a few. But government coercion comes in many forms, and sometimes being told you must do something — particularly under the threat of fine or imprisonment — is worse than being told what you cannot do.

Such is the case this week in Seattle, where the City Council has imposed a mandatory composting ordinance, requiring all residents to separate their biodegradable trash from other kinds of refuse.

COMPOSTING COMMON SENSE: Composting might be a fine option – rather than an option that will get you a fine if you don’t choose it – for people with a large backyard and room for a compost bin. But apartment-dwellers will now have to keep their smelly, decomposing leftovers somewhere in their homes, right alongside the trash and mandatory recycling bins.

Residents of the Emerald City who don’t comply with the new rules could face fines of $1 per violation.

It doesn’t appear the city will hire dumpster-diving cops to inspect the trash, but they’re expecting garbage collection companies to enforce the rules.

According to the Seattle Times “collectors can take a cursory look each time they dump trash into a garbage truck. If they see compostable items make up 10 percent or more of the trash, they’ll enter the violation into a computer system their trucks already carry, and will leave a ticket on the garbage bin that says to expect a $1 fine on the next garbage bill.”

The point isn’t to raise revenue,” Tim Croll, director of solid waste for the Seattle Public Utility agency, told the Times. “We care more about reminding people to separate their materials.

Nothing like a gentle reminder that comes with the threat of financial penalty if you don’t do it, am I right?

But wait, it gets worse: Even if you’re the most conscientious composter in the city, you’ll end up paying more because your neighbors might make the mistake of throwing food in the trash.

Under the ordinance, apartment complexes and offices would be fined $50 for each violation. In other words, landlords probably can expect they’ll be hit with a few violations during the year — and guess what that means for your rent? It’s not going down, that’s for sure.

Seattle hopes the new rule will boost residents’ recycling. The city has a goal of recycling 60 percent of refuse by 2015.

Composting might be a fine option — rather than an option that will get you a fine if you don’t choose it — for people with a large backyard and room for a compost bin. But apartment-dwellers will now have to keep their smelly, decomposing leftovers somewhere in their homes, right alongside the trash and mandatory recycling bins.

The Seattle City Council seems to have no concern about the amount of floor space, cost of rent or the unpleasant odor soon to be wafting from every residence in the city.

And these new rules regarding composting come only months after the Council announced that the Seattle Public Utilities would have to raise trash-collection rates by 5 percent, meaning residents will pay more to have the trash men haul away less.

For composting common sense and issuing “reminders” with the equivalent of parking tickets, the Seattle City Council is this week’s winner.

Their prize is the city’s largest compost bin — hopefully located at the center of its Council chambers.

Boehm can be reached at EBoehm@Watchdog.org and follow @WatchdogOrg on Twitter for more.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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