Let’s Talk Trash Seattle

A new law has peaked Seattle’s attention, and it’s pretty trashy.

On Jan. 1, Mayor Ed Murray signed a new law dictating that any food waste generated by the city of Seattle cannot be placed in the garbage. Although this prohibition has already been created, Seattle Public Utilities will not begin to enforce this law until July 1.
“Basically, it sounds to me like lawmakers just made being environmentally aware and friendly a law,” said freshman Erin Hancock. “It seems like only Seattle would make something like this official.”

While places such as San Francisco and Portland, OR may have beaten us to the punch, Seattle is still set on becoming an even greener city than before.

After a six-month exemption period, those who do not take care to sort their waste materials will be fined. Residents will be charged $1 for each offense, as opposed to a $50 charge for owners of apartments and commercial properties that commit any infractions.

That is not to say that this regulation gives free reign for garbage delivery workers to snoop through everyone’s trash. There will not be a scale to measure out how much of the garbage that workers will be handling could actually be compostable, but they will take note of what can be seen. If more than 10 percent of the garbage bin’s contents seem to be recyclable or food waste, the violation will be noted and Seattle Public Utilities will be contacted.

The ordinance was officially passed on Sept. 22 of last year, but was set for implementation at the start of 2015. Because the law is still very recent, many establishments across the city have yet to make necessary accommodations.

“I feel like most people won’t follow the law if there’s no compost bins out and readily available for people to use,” said sophomore Jesse Angeles.

When it comes to public waste bins, no individuals or businesses will be held responsible for what goes into them. Any dining establishments that provide containers to separate trash from compostable and recyclable material will be excused from fines as well.

The goal of this decision is not to generate large revenue from any fines collected, but rather to help the city ensure that 60 percent of its waste is recycled or composted by the end of 2015.

Around 100,000 tons of food waste is generated by Seattle each year and is sent 300 miles to a landfill in Eastern Oregon. City council officials hope to save resources, generate less greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, and save money from this costly process.
There have been debates on whether the environmental benefits are worth the extra work. The education campaign to spearhead this law began in October 2014, and the estimated cost for spreading the word about this new law amounts to $400,000.

“As someone who is from a place that does not compost, I would need some kind of informational handout demonstrating or explaining what is or is not compostable,” said junior Jordan Murakami.

What exactly counts as compostable? All uneaten food, compostable paper, food-contaminated cardboard and plant-derived plastic is fair game.
Seattle Public Utilities understands that there may be resistance from the general public on this new law. In a recent survey published by seattle.gov, 74 percent of Seattle residents supported its passing while 11 percent opposed it. Even though it has been put into action, the success of this law, like many other steps taken in Seattle, will depend on public compliance.

For many students at Seattle University, this ordinance appears to be generating positive responses.

“It’s amazing that this regulation got passed,” said sophomore Rukhsar Palla. “I think it would’ve been hard for me to get used to or understand if SU wasn’t a campus that composted frequently.”

Indeed, Seattle U offers several places around campus that students and faculty alike can compost items. Food waste bins are located outside most buildings, on most first floors and in dining areas on campus.

For more information, students can contact recycling services on campus or look into it on the Seattle government’s website at www.seattle.gov/council.

Bianca Sewake

This is Bianca Sewake's fourth and final year at The Spectator, where she is the Online Content Editor and Managing Editor. She is equal parts excited and terrified that she is graduating with a BA in Journalism this spring. Unlike her hair color, Bianca's love for ice cream will never change.


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