Seattle imposes fine for too many food scraps in the garbage

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Seattle residents who throw too many pizza crusts, coffee grounds and uneaten leftovers in their regular garbage will now face a fine, in one of the toughest mandatory composting efforts in the country, officials said on Tuesday.

The Seattle City Council voted on Monday to impose a $1 fine on residents each time they fill more than 10 percent of their home garbage with compostable waste, such as food scraps and paper products. Repeat offenders could see the fine increase to $50.

Seattle, long seen as a leader in urban sustainability and recycling efforts, is the second major U.S. city after San Francisco to make composting mandatory in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change, environmental officials said.

Global centers such as New York City and London have also considered fines for residents who fail to dump food waste in designated compost bins but have not so far adopted them.

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

In 2012, only 5 percent of food waste was diverted from landfills for composting, a process of decomposition of organic waste like food, yard trimmings and paperboard products, the EPA said.

Over the past five years, a number of cities and states have created voluntary curbside composting programs and increased efforts to divert food and yard waste out of landfills, the agency said.

Mandatory composting in Seattle will be enforced by Seattle trash collectors, who will enter violations into a computerized system. Offenders will then receive a notice on their garbage bin that a fine will be included on their next bill.

Seattle’s measure is more lenient than a 2009 mandatory composting law passed in San Francisco, with individual offenders being warned then facing up to a $100 fine for repeat offenses.

Seattle recycles about 60 percent of municipal solid waste, according to city data. That’s compared to about 34.5 percent nationally, according to the EPA.

The Pacific Northwest city is pursuing a goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, pushing residents to conserve water and energy, drive less, use green products and transportation, and recycle more.

Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Cynthia Osterman