Residents sue Seattle to block city haulers from snooping into trash

By Eric M. Johnson

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Seattle is violating constitutional guarantees of privacy and due process in allowing garbage collectors to inspect refuse bins to gauge a home's compliance with the city's strict trash-sorting rules, residents said in a lawsuit this week.

The Washington state metropolis last year 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.

"This food waste ban uses trash collectors to pry through people's garbage without a warrant, as Washington courts have long required for garbage inspections by police," said Ethan Blevins, and attorney with the non-profit Pacific Legal Foundation, which filed the suit on behalf of Seattle residents

A city attorney and a public utility spokesman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Seattle, seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change and reach a recycling goal of 60 percent of municipal solid waste, passed its composting ordinance in September.

The city authorized a plan to impose a $1 fine on residents each time their garbage cans were deemed to be filled with more than 10 percent food, compostable waste and paper products.

Trash collectors are responsible for eyeing the garbage bins to make sure they are in compliance, according to Seattle Public Utilities.

In April, the city suspended plans to fine homeowners who fail to comply with the program, which city officials said has seen early success but also a lack of awareness over the rules.

Public utility workers had been putting red warning tags on garbage bins at residences putting too many eggshells, tea bags and pizza crusts in the regular trash and not a special, green composting bin.

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 generate methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, during decomposition, according to the Council. Composting turns organic matter into nutrient-rich soil, reducing waste sent to landfills.

The complaint, which seeks a permanent injunction and a declaration that the law be removed, was filed on Thursday in the King County Superior Court.

The Pacific Legal Foundation, which supports the goal of encouraging recycling and composting, said the city's ordinance does not provide citizens with any avenue for challenging alleged violations.

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Victoria Cavaliere, Robert Birsel)

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