In Seattle, Throwing Away Food May Cost You


If you had to pay for every food scrap in your garbage bag, would you really scrape those last bits of spaghetti into the trash?

A new Seattle law makes eaters question how they deal with food waste. As of January 2015, home owners and apartment tenants who throw away food will be fined. 

The policy works like this: after receiving two warnings for having food waste in their trash, a $1 fine will be imposed on homes and $50 on businesses with dumpsters. 

But how do collectors know what's in the trash? Seattle has contracted Recology Cleanscapes, a company that will inspect and flag trashbags that do have food waste in them. "Right now, I'm tagging probably every fifth can," Rodney Watkins, a lead driver for the company told NPR in January. He noted that items like orange peels and coffee grounds were easily visible in the trash and make great compost -- perfect for home gardening! provides plenty of tips for how to deal with food waste, from keeping scraps in a freezer container to vaccuming away fruit flies that may be attracted to compost. 

The program is still in its trial period to allow residents to become accustomed to composting, fines will start on July 1, 2015.

While Fox News claims that "Seattle is now shaming residents for not composting food waste," the idea is to manage the amount of trash that could actually be composted, reportedly 30% of all garbage in Seattle. 

In October 2014, National Geographic reported that 31% of food goes uneaten, with 2.8 trillion pounds, valued at $162 billion, of food going to waste. While composting food waste will not solve this issue, it will at least keep landfills from filling up with food waste and help the environment by providing healthy soil. Residents will keep spoiled or extra food in compostable bags and can compost at home or allow the city to pick up their food scraps for municipal composting. 

Mariko Helm, a 25-year-old who lives in Queen Anne, thinks its very Seattle to fine residents for throwing away food. "I’m glad my apartment building will be composting now, especially since this was already widely recommended and done in most areas/buildings. It’s a good way to hold myself and others accountable, though this method requires so many man hours to monitor people’s food waste," she said. 

Helm said that she only tries to buy as much food as she can eat every few days, in order to reduce waste, but admits to throwing out fruits and vegetables that go bad before she has the chance to eat them. 

Erica Jordan, 28, lives in Capitol HIll and also deals with food waste. "I feel guilty every time I have to throw something away because I wasn’t able to eat it before it went bad, or when I’m not able to finish something or get a doggy bag at restaurants," she said. Jordan also tries to only buy as much as she can eat and buys in bulk rather than pre-packaged to have more control over what she's buying. She shares food with her roomamte and coworkers but says she is open to additional ideas on how to combat food waste. 

"I try to be very conscious of how to decrease the amount of waste I’m producing and how I can minimize what ends up in a landfill," Jordan said. She believes that she'll feel better about calling people out on wasting food because of the new law. 

While Seattle is the first city to officially mandate composting and fine residents for wasting food, San Francisco has similar food waste restrictions in order and Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed mandatory composting for NYC before leaving office. 

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