Non-composters beware: Seattle to red-tag garbage bins with excess scraps

By Victoria Cavaliere

By Victoria Cavaliere

SEATTLE (Reuters) - In a message to residents who don't take composting seriously, the city of Seattle is placing red tags on the bins of anyone who fails to comply with a new law barring food scraps from being tossed in the garbage, a spokesman said on Wednesday.

The highly visible warnings are not meant to be a scarlet letter, but a means of educating residents about the new composting rule that took effect on Jan. 1, said Andy Ryan, a spokesman for Seattle Public Utilities.

"This is not at all intended to embarrass people or shame them," he said. "It's just part of our education process," he said.

Seattle, seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change, in September became the second major U.S. city after San Francisco to pass a law prohibiting most food or food scraps from being disposed of in residential and commercial garbage.

Up to 40 percent of food purchased in the United States is thrown out, according to the National Resource Defense Council.

Discarded food and organic matter sent to regular landfills generates methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, during decomposition, the Council said. Composting reduces waste sent to landfills and turns that organic matter into nutrient-rich soil.

Those who fail to comply with Seattle's new law, which caps food waste at 10 percent of garbage content, will face a $1 fine on their bill starting in July. Repeat offenders could see the fine increase to $50, the law states.

For now, the red warning signs will tell people when they are putting too many egg shells, tea bags and pizza crusts in the regular garbage and not a special, green composting bin, Ryan said.

"We expect that people want to do the right thing - and will once they understand the law," he said.

The notices are left at the discretion of garbage collectors, he added.

Seattle recycles about 60 percent of municipal solid waste, according to city data. That compares to about 34.5 percent nationally, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

(Editing by Eric Walsh)