Get ready to recycle more: Seattle to require food-waste composting

Don’t look at it as a ban on throwing away your food scraps, suggested City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw before this afternoon’s vote – look at it as expanded recycling. And with that, she and the rest of the City Council voted to require recycling of food scraps and compostable paper, starting next year. The enforcement teeth won’t be very sharp – $1 fines, and only after a “massive” informational campaign – but the city believes this is what’s needed to jolt the “stalled” shrinkage of Seattleites’ recycling rate. (Also, as noted on the city website, “Food waste is one third of the residential garbage in Seattle … and is transported by train 300 miles to an Oregon landfill.”) Details of how it would be enforced are in this slide deck from a briefing earlier this month.

34 Replies to "Get ready to recycle more: Seattle to require food-waste composting"

  • NW September 22, 2014 (7:04 pm)

    No big change for me been recycling food-waste for decades separating what gets thrown away from what gets recycled is easy to do once you get into the routine.

  • Alvis September 22, 2014 (8:26 pm)

    Speaking as someone who lives alone and makes a habit of trying to never buy more groceries than I absolutely need, I take exception to the City Council’s rather lazy assumption that I’m generating food scraps and not recycling them.
    I propose that the City Council also take a grandstand against wasteful packaging by food manufacturers. For example, peanut butter manufacturers ought to be using margarine tubs instead of cylinder jars of the sort that can never be fully emptied with a spreading knife, thus routinely get thrown in the trash with that unreachable peanut butter still clinging to their insides.

  • Mike September 22, 2014 (9:07 pm)

    Already do this, so does every person I know and every person I live near by. Not sure where they get their stats from, maybe they should eat their own dogfood and look to the developers they allowed to build more condo/apartment units than the city can sustain right now. Start there, fine them first. Don’t come knocking on those of us that already do this and pay taxes for the rest of those renting.

  • Feeling burdened by the Matrix September 22, 2014 (9:25 pm)

    ^ Alvis – I think think big brother should just go ahead and make my peanut butter sandwich. Sheesh.

  • Kris September 22, 2014 (9:33 pm)

    I looked through the PowerPoint slides and it doesn’t say how garbage would actually be inspected. I’m assuming by the truck drivers? That could pose a serious health hazard. And how do they have time to do that? With all the recent discussion about cutting back service this proposal seems to contradict that. I don’t disagree about the necessity to compost but some of the details are still missing.

  • Anne September 22, 2014 (9:41 pm)

    We also have been composting food scraps & paper for years. My question continues to be– how would city know if someone isn’t ?

  • WSobserver September 22, 2014 (10:06 pm)

    The raccoons are jumping for joy. New plunder.

  • brandon September 22, 2014 (10:48 pm)

    The peanut butter jar problem is really quite simple. Use a rubber spatula to scrape it clean. Same with jelly jars, mayo, mustard, etc. Easy Peasey.

  • PSPS September 22, 2014 (11:08 pm)

    So I’ll have to pay $1 because other people routinely put their garbage in my can?

  • dsa September 22, 2014 (11:49 pm)

    It’s the compostable paper that gets my goat. Nearly every paper product in the recycle bin seems recycable. If we have to put that in the clean green bin, it would get too full, which will cause an overcharge for a second can.
    And I agree with mike above, do they actually know where this 1/3 of kitchen waste is coming from? Is it from single family residences or multiplexes with dumpsters?

  • JanS September 23, 2014 (12:20 am)

    those glass jars go easily in a dishwasher before recycling…I guess I don’t see the problem with them :-\

  • JanS September 23, 2014 (12:20 am)

    if you see others placing garbage in your can , speak up to them and take their picture when you can. It’s illegal to do so.

  • transplantella September 23, 2014 (1:06 am)

    @ JanS

    We have nothing but trouble with the trash at our building. It’s a 4 unit apartment with a residential type trash bin arrangement.


    Neighbors move in and out every year. There is always at least one unit that does not comprehend the garbage/recycle bins, they just dump stuff in any container that has enough room.


    I don’t have a camera. And even if I did I wouldn’t be out photographing the neighbors mismanaging the trash, that’s the pettiest thing I’ve ever heard in my life. As Gordon Ramsey would say, feck me.

  • flimflam September 23, 2014 (5:45 am)

    my first thought, and what others have already mentioned is, how would anyone know what is in the garbage? are the drivers going to sort through each bag at each stop? I doubt it…

    that said, I wish I could opt out of garbage pick-up. I live alone and barely fill 1/2 a can. my recycling and yard waste/composting bins are my main needs. i’d gladly haul my own garbage to the dump if I could. (why is it forbidden to opt out of trash pick up?)

  • Anne September 23, 2014 (6:47 am)

    Well Seattle a Times answered my question as to how SPU will know if compostable items are put in regular trash. Drivers are authorized to take a “cursory look” each time they dump trash in the truck. If they see that compostable items make up 10% or more of the trash they will enter the violation into a computer system their trucks already carry & leave a ticket on the garbage can saying a $1 fine will be on your next garbage bill!
    Really–truck drivers have the time to do this?? What about the many folks who put everything in plastic garbage bags- tie the top off & put in garbage. Are the drivers going to open each plastic bag up- dump the stuff out so they can find that 10%+?

  • Jake September 23, 2014 (7:03 am)

    DSA,Only food soiled paper is required to be composted. Clean paper still gets recycled.

    And everyone else, the collector doesn’t rifle through the trash. If they see a bunch of food when they open the bin, you get tagged. If they don’t, you don’t.

  • heather September 23, 2014 (7:14 am)

    I guess I don’t see the problem. I would imagine, that in the course of a long day, full of pickups, that the odd extra smelly garbage or garbage that attracts more bugs probably has a greater concentration of food waste. The driver just needs a quick glance as it is poured into the vehicle to verify. I certainly know when I have too much food waste in my garbage.

  • Marge Evans September 23, 2014 (8:06 am)

    I’d like to see how this will be enforced in downtown Seattle. The restaurants and the coffee shops recyle but the tenants of the high rises (of which I am one) do not.

  • How Neighborly September 23, 2014 (8:13 am)

    Oh that’s funny …. Speak up when you see others place garbage in your can, yet nothing but a forum rant after you watch someone illegally dump a couch on a neighbors property. What hypocrisy.

  • LyndaB September 23, 2014 (8:42 am)

    I agree with Alvis in demanding better/less packaging. I recall one week of garbage with mostly plastic wrapping. What I dislike the most are those blister packs!

  • Wetone September 23, 2014 (8:51 am)

    One more program that will end up costing us much more than it saves along with having someone snooping through your garbage. I ‘m surprised people haven’t complained more about the privacy issues. If this was a good idea wouldn’t you think other city’s would be doing this also. Only in Seattle.

  • KM September 23, 2014 (9:06 am)

    I’m not sure a $1 fine for a infraction that is only sort of monitored is really going to cause people to change behavior. I’ve seen comments before about people assuming that food breaks down in the landfill, which always isn’t the case.

    Alvis, LyndaB, Bulk is awesome, even for peanut butter. It drastically changed my trash and recycling output. We can vote with our dollars and stop buying awful packaging whenever possible. Ask for meat to be wrapped in butcher paper at the counter. Bring cloth or nylon bags, or jars, for bulk. I recommend for cool ways to reduce food packaging and waste. The city council can grandstand all it wants, but I think avoiding products (whenever possible) in awful packaging is more effective.

  • Ken September 23, 2014 (9:08 am)

    I want to see Styrofoam recycling closer than federal way.

    I already recycle and compost to the max. I feed my worms coffee grounds and veg refuse and everything else that can be composted goes in the yard waste. I feed it weeds (since their process gets hot enough to kill the seeds) and chip the tree trims and grapevines. Paper that has food residue also goes in there. I may get charged for an extra recycle bag but I am not worried about the compost percentage in trash.

    Besides, your pickup has been done mostly by the same long term drivers for years. They will know whose trash to check for ticket-able stuff.

    Repent now ye yard waste scofflaws :)

  • zark00 September 23, 2014 (9:13 am)

    Its not illegal to put trash in someone else’s bin, its a municipal code not a law, same with being your own garbage person. Collectors already inspect garbage, its part of their job to cursorily inspect for biohazard or others illegal dumps – oil for instance. Talk to them, they’re super nice, and fun to chat with – they are really busy though.

  • Anne September 23, 2014 (9:18 am)

    Many folks commenting- driver just needs to glance in can– so if garbage has been put in plastic bag already- do they untie bags & look in? Maybe we & our friends are the odd ones- but we have a can under sink lined with Glad garbage bag. When full we tie it closed & put in outside trash can. Don’t most folks do that? Obviously if not- it would be easy for driver to see what’s in can- but just can’t see them taking the time to open each closed plastic bag.
    Would recommend countertop compost pail. We’ve used ours for several years now- line it with compostable bag & change the filter every couple months. Once you get used to doing that- it’s amazing how little we even use our garbage disposal ! Between that & recycle bin- we usually only have 1 bag of garbage to be collected. It’s just 2 of us- but even when kids & grandkids come- maybe only 1-bag extra. When we have diapers- that’s a different matter though !!

  • Ken September 23, 2014 (9:19 am)

    Note: Newer peanut butter jars have the slick plastic so it does not stick as readily as in the past. Plastic condiments are starting to do the same.
    Also I no longer use my dispose-all and mayo and peanut butter and other stuff with oils as the major component get composted or put in paper take out containers (cash n carry)to go in the yard waste. My old drain system cannot handle the grease build up. I suspect the city sewer system also has a problem treating grease. That’s why food service requires a grease trap

  • Ken September 23, 2014 (9:25 am)

    I also want to see a used fryer oil drop-off once a month in WS. (Are you listening Yale?) :)

  • KM September 23, 2014 (9:45 am)


    Styro Recycle behind Ikea in Renton takes styrofoam–a little bit closer at least!

  • biankat September 23, 2014 (9:49 am)

    @Ken. I take my Styrofoam to Tukwila. There’s a place next to Ikea:

  • miws September 23, 2014 (10:55 am)

    Ken, here’s a quick-ish vid of a sewer line with a high cholesterol problem:

    Here’s the page it’s from, with additional info:



  • miws September 23, 2014 (10:57 am)

    How Neighborly, hiding behind anonymity much?



  • sam-c September 23, 2014 (1:32 pm)

    Ken- you can always just drop off your fancy new tv styrofoam packaging next to your neighbor’s trash can next time they put their garbage out.

    ok, not really but that is a tactic one of my neighbors took. after a week or so of being annoyed, we went to ikea for a meatball lunch and left the styrofoam there. they have a bin near their exit- near where you can recycle your fancy new light bulbs.

  • David Trotter September 24, 2014 (5:52 pm)

    We already have SPU violating human rights (as defined under international law) by shutting off people’s water and sewer for inability to pay, and endangering the public health by cutting off people’s garbage pickup.

    This only adds to the problem.

    We recycle and compost heavily, but we keep our home compost green by keeping animal products/meat scraps out of it. If these start going in the yard waste bin to the city for composting (we all pay for this), vegetarians and others who want green compost will be unable to use the SPU compost when it is offered annually, and this makes for inequality which the city has no business practicing. SPU already makes the situation in equitable by making the free compost available only to those wh drive/own a vehicle.

    Further, any fines, regardless how small or large, simply add to the bills of those who already have difficulty paying and ultimately puts even more people at risk of having their human rights violate via shutoffs.

    Meanwhile, the other branch of SPU, Seattle City Light, is looking at upping rates and keeping private residences paying higher rates than large businesses.

    These increasing violations make it absolutely necessary for us to replace several councilmembers in the 2015 election. I am considering my own political/activist/mom-profit options in these areas. We already have Charles Redmond declared in the race against Tom Rasmussen, but while Redmond has very good ideas, I am not convinced he has the personal conviction to keep a civil/human rights attorney on staff or on retainer or to file civil/human rights actions against the city, the mayor, or other councilmembers on behalf of the people as necessary.

  • Teresa Roos September 30, 2014 (7:31 am)

    From those that don’t live in the area it appears that they are penalizing people for WASTING food. this is not the case. there is a SEPARATE compost bin where food waste and other compostable items go. That is not how it is reported. get the word out!! The whole idea of recycling is a GOOD thing. It’s not a right/left issue. Don’t make it so.

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