Seattle’s New No-Food-in-the-Trash Law

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Are there options to Seattle’s new law banning food waste from residences and businesses? What are the ins and outs of this new trend? How does it affect the way we think of waste and sustainable practices when it comes to garbage?

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When this came into my newsfeed, I wasn’t sure what to think. Seattle is banning food waste in the garbage as of January 1, 2015, but enforcement will not begin until July 1st. Residents have six months to figure out a new system for dividing food and recyclables from trash at home and work.

This sounds like a wonderful idea, considering that about 1/3 of all food produced in the US is wasted. Seattle trucks about 100,000 pounds of food waste 300 miles, so to increase recycling and composting will cut costs and CO2 emissions.

There is an existing ban on uncontaminated recyclables in the trash – paper, jars, cans and so on need to be weeded out and recycled. Seattle’s recycling and composting goals have not been met, though, so they enacted this new law to force the issue.

Is it practical?

‘Uncontaminated’ seems to be a key word here. Dirty food containers (pizza box comes to mind…) can no longer be thrown away. They must be composted or recycled, no matter how ‘contaminated’ they are with food debris.

With the new criteria, homeowners will be fined one dollar  if their trash is more than 10% food or recyclables. Owners of multi-family dwellings and all businesses will be warned twice, then fined $50. Composting bins are provided, but residents are not required to use them. Public trashcans are exempt.

How will homeowners and apartment dwellers deal with sorting their trash even further? What if they don’t have space indoors or out? What if rents go up due to fines, but half the tenants are doing their share?

Who is going to check every dumpster and garbage can for waste volume? Will the fines cover the extra time it takes? Will new employees be needed? What about new composting and recycling infrastructure to deal with ‘contaminated’ recyclables?

Urban farming

Seattle has been cutting back on what is and is not allowed in landfills for decades. Bit by bit, residents have had to comply, although I am sure there are a few outlaws willing to pay fines!

But all in all, it sounds inconvenient and Big Brother-ish to me.

The best solution to food waste is to increase urban farming production. Chickens, pigs, worms and goats will make short work of food waste and turn it into manure for compost. Food waste, livestock, compost and urban gardens are bedfellows.

Encourage and reward sustainability instead of putting fines on people who may not even deserve them. Do you want to reduce food waste? Maintain the composting cycle, and make it easy to use. It would be worthwhile for them to drop off their food waste, and get a coupon for fresh vegetables. Reward people for not wasting food! There’s got to be a better way than saying No Food In The Trash Or You Will Pay!

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.