Seattle's ‘Slop Sleuths’ Tag Residents For Throwing Away Too Much Food

Barbara Hollingsworth
By Barbara Hollingsworth | September 29, 2015 | 4:12 PM EDT

Seattle trash collectors tag residents' garbage cans if more than 10 percent of their contents is determined to be compostable. (Twitter)

As many as 14,000 residents of Seattle have been “tagged” by garbage collectors and full-time city waste inspectors for throwing too many “compostables” in the trash – including uneaten food and organic waste such as apple cores, egg shells and coffee grounds.

According to a city ordinance that went into effect Jan. 1 under the city’s “zero waste” policy, putting “significant amounts” of compostable material in the garbage is prohibited.

Throwing away recyclable paper, glass and cans has been banned since 2005.

The City of Seattle defines “significant amounts” as “more than 10% by volume of container, dumpster or self-haul vehicle’s load based on visual inspection by a Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) inspector, contractor or transfer station worker.”

Trash workers are currently attaching brightly colored “educational notices or tags” on non-compliant garbage cans.

After Jan. 1, 2016, Seattle residents will be subject to fines of $1 per violation for individuals and $50 for commercial establishments if the content of their trash bins exceeds the approved limit.

However, according to a lawsuit filed in July in King County Superior Court by the non-profit Pacific Legal Foundation, the ordinance violates the Washington State Constitution, “which prohibits government searches of garbage cans without first obtaining a warrant.”

It also violates Seattle residents’ right of due process by providing “no avenue for residents to contest a supposed infraction,” the lawsuit charged.

The ordinance “fully complies with the law, including the enhanced privacy protections afforded by the Washington Constitution,” SPU and the city attorney responded in a joint statement, adding that “containers are only tagged if the contamination is clearly visible.”

But Blevins told that Seattle’s “slop sleuths” rely on their “arbitrary judgment” to determine whether a violation has occurred. And since the offending trash is hauled away, there is no appeal.

“This law makes trash collectors the judges and juries,” Blevins said in a YouTube video.

“You’re at the mercy of their off-the-cuff estimates about how much food you’ve thrown away in the garbage. And if their hunch goes against you, you get a colorful shaming tag to embarrass you in front of your neighbors.”

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