Check Your Trash: Failure to Compost Will Cost Some Big-City Residents

In the Emerald City, garbage collectors will sort and quantify the percentage of improperly discarded compost and fine violators beginning next year.

(Photo: Martin Poole)

Sep 24, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Tossing banana peels, coffee grounds, and other biodegradable trash in with non-compostable junk such as glossy magazines or household cleaners could cost Seattle residents. If at least 10 percent of the waste in Seattle dwellers’ trash bins is compostable, they face a $1 fine.

The Seattle City Council unanimously approved an ordinance to encourage composting on Monday, Reuters reports. Apartment buildings must provide compost bins, and single-family homes are encouraged to separate their trash, but no law requires them to do so. Businesses will also be obliged to follow the composting rules that take effect in 2015, with Dumpsters subject to random searches.

A dollar might not sound like a lot, but Seattle’s composting compliance law is one of the more extreme measures. New York and London have only considered mandatory measures, while Berkeley forbade businesses from engaging in this practice in July.

Trash collectors will sort through Dumpsters and determine if more than 10 percent of the items are compostable. If a resident or business tossed too many peanut shells or napkins, collectors make a note in their computer system and tag the bin. Those in violation will see an extra dollar on their next garbage bill. Repeat offenders could face up to a $50 fine.

Attempting to quantify the percentage of coffee grounds to kitty litter or cardboard-spindle cotton swabs to plastic ones sounds like a tricky process. But Seattle Public Utilities officials do not expect to rake in a lot of cash with the new rule. It’s an incentive to create awareness, with a small financial threat greasing the wheels. “The point isn’t to raise revenue. We care more about reminding people to separate their materials,” Tim Croll, the agency’s solid-waste director, told The Seattle Times.

Only about 5 percent of food waste in America gets composted, and it’s the biggest contributor to landfills, which produce potent methane gas. Seattle alone sends 300,000 tons of garbage to landfills annually, according to the Times. Seattle Public Utilities officials estimate the ordinance will increase compost by an additional 38,000 tons a year.