Seattle to Fine Residents for Throwing Food in the Garbage

By Curtis Kalin | January 28, 2015 | 9:37 AM EST

In an attempt to shame residents of their city, a new Seattle law will levy a fine on homes that do not properly sort food out of their garbage.

Emblazoned with a red citation tag, violators will start to be fined anywhere from $1-$50 in July. For now, Seattle residents will be publicly shamed by the ‘Scarlet Letter’-like tags.

Food waste is a big, and still growing, problem. (Charles Krupa/AP Photo)

"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. He's on the front lines of enforcing these rules.

The tags are part of, what the city calls, a “public education campaign.”

In an interview with NPR, Watkins details how he goes about enforcing the draconian statute:

"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."

The ultimate goal of the law is to boost composting while reducing greenhouse gasses:

Food waste is both an economic and environmental burden. Transporting the waste, especially for distances as far as Seattle does, is costly. So too is allowing it to sit out in the open, where it produces methane, one of the most harmful greenhouses gases, as it rots. The second largest component of landfills in the United States is organic waste, and landfills are the single largest source of methane gas.

The EPA has already begun a campaign to achieve laws similar to Seattle’s.

The outstanding question remains: what purview is it of government to act as people’s trash nanny?


The business and economic reporting of is funded in part with a gift made in memory of Dr. Keith C. Wold.