Let’s face it: most Americans approve of the concept of protecting the environment. Where disagreements tend to emerge is whether green practices should be compulsory or remain voluntary.
In most cases, mandatory environmental regulations focus on behaviors that are prohibited, such as littering, watering your lawn while raining, or dumping toxic chemicals into a river or lake. In other cases, eco-friendly habits are incentivized in some way, like giving out rewards points for recycling, issuing tax rebates for green technological upgrades, or permitting HOV lane usage for drivers of hybrid vehicles.
It’s fairly rare for municipalities to compel people to embrace these green initiatives, especially at the individual level. However, the city of Seattle is becoming one of the first major urban areas to require its residents to adopt the sustainable practice of composting.
Compost in Seattle… Or Else!
As of the beginning of this year, it is now illegal for Seattleites to put too much food waste into their garbage containers. In fact, if any such receptacle is found to contain more than ten percent organic waste and/or recyclable material, its owner will receive a citation which boldly states, “Items in Your Garbage Violate Recycling, Food and Yard Waste Requirements!
And as of July first, each of these citations will be accompanied by a $1 fine that will appear on a garbage customer’s bi-monthly bill. For apartment complexes and similar multi-family housing residences, two warning citations will be issued; but a third violation will result in a $50 fine for the property owner.
How Does This Initiative Work?
You may be asking some questions about this unorthodox law in Seattle. For example:
- Who is responsible for determining whether a particular trash receptacle has too much illegal material in it? Not the police or sheriff’s deputies. Frontline garbage collectors will be the people tasked with writing and handing out these citations.
- How will they determine whether a specific garbage container has more than ten percent of compostable or recyclable material? The law does not stipulate a particular method. Garbage collectors may just be making their own estimations and writing citations accordingly.
- Do homeowners have any recourse to challenge these citations? In theory, they could go to court to fight the fine(s). But in practice, that might be cost-prohibitive and/or a waste of time for most people.
What’s the Point?
You may also be wondering what the specific motivation is behind Seattle’s “composting fine” initiative. Here’s the short answer: the city has set a goal to become a zero-waste community sometime this century. Moreover, it has established a benchmark of recycling 60% of its total solid waste by the end of this year. Many current studies show that figure at around 56% right now, so city officials are hoping that the new law will help Seattle attain its 60% goal.
Here’s one other thing: Seattle has also committed to increasing that recyclable figure to 70% by 2025. It remains to be seen whether measures such as implementing an even lower percentage of allowable organic or recyclable waste and/or assessing higher fines for violations will be adopted in order to reach the 70% milestone.
But for now, Seattle residents will have to redouble their efforts to compost food waste and recycle other materials in order to afford being fined. Will this initiative achieve its intended effect? Or will its rocky implementation cause a backlash among the Seattle populace? Only time will tell.
Written by Del Thebaud
Image #3 Credit Source: Seattle.gov