Seattle, an US city with one of the highest recycling rates in the country, is now effectively mandating its citizens to separate food waste from trash cans. Those who do not comply risk a fine, but also a red tag on their garbage cans for all the other neighbors to see. Basically, it’s a shaming act – will it work?

Seattle garbage collector Anousone Sadettanh empties a small residential garbage bin into his truck in 2014. It is now illegal to toss out food with the trash in the city. Residents will get warning tags for now; the city will start imposing fines in July. Elaine Thompson/AP

Seattle garbage collector Anousone Sadettanh empties a small residential garbage bin into his truck in 2014. It is now illegal to toss out food with the trash in the city. Residents will get warning tags for now; the city will start imposing fines in July.
Elaine Thompson/AP

The measure, in effect since January 1st, makes Seattle the first city in the nation to fine homeowners for not properly disposing of their food waste. Seattle Public Utilities estimates that every family in the city throws away some 400 pounds of food each year, which eventually wind up in landfills. A more sound alternative is composting the food waste. Composting provides a way not only of reducing the amount of waste that needs to be disposed of, but also of converting it into a product that is useful for gardening, landscaping, or house plants.

[AMAZING] Seattle plans a city park with edible plants 

Each household is given special bin for disposing of the organic waste and the city park handles all the waste for free. Basically, Seattle’s residents just need to be careful and considerate. If not, households risk a  $1 fine per violation, but apartments, condos and commercial buildings could be fined $50 starting from July. Until then, though, residents are noticed with a red flag on their bins whenever they violate the rule, part of a citywide educational campaign that aims to increase awareness on the matter. Also starting July, households will be fine if they do not correctly sort and dispose of recyclable material.

“I’m sure neighbors are going to see these on their other neighbors’ cans,” says Rodney Watkins, a lead driver for Recology CleanScapes, a waste contractor for the city.

“Right now, I’m tagging probably every fifth can,” Watkins says for NPR. “I don’t know if that’s just the holidays, or the fact that I’m actually paying a lot more attention.”

“You can see all the oranges and coffee grounds,” he says, raising one lid. “All that makes great compost. You can put that in your compost bin and buy it back next year in a bag and put it in your garden.”

Seattle’s recycling rate has fallen a tad last year to 49% from 50% in 2013. These latest measures are a bid to improve the state’s overall recycling, which is nevertheless one of the highest in the US.

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