English muffins — no matter how stale or moldy they get — are not garbage. Not in Seattle, anyway.
Neither are bean-and-rice leftovers, banana peels or aging pastries.
But Rodney Watkins found all of those food scraps in garbage cans along just one block of his Monday run in Northeast Seattle.
“We’d like to get people to think about it a little more,” said Watkins, lead driver for Recology CleanScapes, one of two residential garbage-collection agencies serving Seattle. “Being a good steward of the environment starts at home.”
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Under an ordinance taking effect Jan. 1, food scraps are compostable material, welcome in food-and-yard waste containers, but not garbage cans.
Ditto for pizza boxes, paper towels and napkins.
Drivers will be watching for the materials and will inform the city about violators who — after a six-month warning phase — could face fines of $1 for each offense.
The city had already been encouraging residents to put food waste in yard-waste containers, which are now called food-and-yard waste containers. This ordinance makes the point more directly.
From January through June next year, residential violators will get notices on their garbage cans and letters from the city. Starting July 1, the $1 fines kick in and will be added to violators’ utility bills.
Owners of apartments and commercial properties could be fined $50 for each offense.
Michael Gerig, operations supervisor for Recology CleanScapes, said the ordinance won’t turn his drivers into garbage cops.
They won’t rip open bags to check their contents. They won’t meticulously measure what’s inside or engage in debates with utility customers.
But as they toss a can’s contents into the truck, they’ll pay attention to what they do see. And if it appears that more than 10 percent of a trash-can’s contents are either food waste or recyclables, they’ll leave a tag telling of the infraction. Seattle Public Utilities will be notified.
The new ordinance is part of a continuing effort to reduce the amount of waste Seattle sends to landfills, which officials say is costly and creates greenhouse-gas emissions.
As much as 38,000 tons of compostable food scraps may be diverted from landfills each year under the measure, according to Seattle Public Utilities.
The city prohibited yard waste from the garbage in 1988, prohibited recyclables from the garbage in 2005 and began curbside food-waste collection in 2005.
Until now, notices — without fines — have been left if someone’s garbage appeared to contain 10 percent or more materials that should be recycled. Sometimes the contents were left for the resident to sort out, to be picked up later.
Under the new ordinance, the contents will be taken by the garbage-company crew, whether or not it complies with the ordinance,
Will a $1 fine be enough to change people’s habits?
“We’re not in the revenue-generation business,” said Brett Stav, a spokesman for Seattle Public Utilities. “We don’t want to take a harsh approach to this.”
Like Seattle’s other steps toward recycling, this plan will depend on public acceptance and approval, he said.
He noted that in a June survey by SurveyUSA, 74 percent of Seattle adults contacted approved the proposal to have residents and businesses compost their leftover food and scraps and compostable paper. Only 11 percent opposed the idea.
Jack Broom: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-2222