Seattle will become the first city in King County to mandate food- and yard-waste service March 30.

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Seattle will become the first city in King County to mandate food- and yard-waste service March 30.

Unless they can prove they are composting food scraps, single-family homes will have to sign up for at least the smallest food-scrap bin — and add $3.60 to their monthly recycling bill. Food waste can still go in the trash. Food and yard waste go in the same bin.

Rates for garbage pickup are rising at the end of the month, too, by about $3 to $5 for residential customers. And recycling guidelines are changing slightly. Most notably, glass doesn’t need to be separated from other recyclables.

“Life has gotten a lot more complicated since the days when we just threw everything in the trash,” said Mayor Greg Nickels, who helped toss fake fruit, some dead flowers and a rubber chicken into a food-waste bin at a Wednesday morning news conference on Beacon Hill.

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He held up a plastic fish for the television cameras: “If this were actually a fish, you could put this in your food waste.”

The pageantry is part of an education campaign to prepare people for the changes coming at the end of this month.

City officials said residents already recycle almost 50 percent of their total waste. They hope the food-waste-recycling push will help the city get that number to the mayor’s goal of 60 percent. Recycling more, and throwing out less garbage, is intended to help the city put off building a third transfer station.

In 2006, Seattle began enforcing its recycling rules. Trash collectors leave residents’ garbage on the curb if more than 10 percent of the can’s contents are recyclable. Last year, they left behind about 1,500 cans. Apartment buildings and businesses face fines if they don’t recycle.

Seattle is being more aggressive than surrounding cities by mandating recycling and, as of this month, food-waste service.

But other cities in King County are actually a little ahead of Seattle in making food-waste collection widely available, said Josh Marx, a recycling planner for King County’s Solid Waste Division. Seattle is adding meat and dairy products to the list of food items that can be recycled. Surrounding cities have been doing that for years, Marx said.

“King County and the city of Seattle, we’re way ahead of the majority of the country,” he said.

In Snohomish County, residents can put food waste — including meat and dairy — in their yard-debris containers.

Marx said all cities face the same challenge: getting people to use the service. That’s what Seattle hopes the new requirement will do. “It’s really a matter of habit,” said the mayor.

For details on the new rates, recycling regulations, and — for most residents — a new collection day, watch for a flier the city is mailing this week.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or

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