Seattle’s Food Waste Ordinance Sparks Privacy Lawsuit

Waste360 Staff, Staff

April 18, 2016

2 Min Read
Seattle’s Food Waste Ordinance Sparks Privacy Lawsuit

A group of homeowners in Seattle has sued the city over a regulation that went into effect in January 2015 meant to crack down on food waste in the city. The issue at hand is that part of the ordinance authorized Seattle’s sanitation workers to inspect and flag cans that too much food waste in them. This, opponents say, is a violation of privacy.

According to a Los Angeles Times report:

"Seattle's garbage inspection law violates the right of privacy and must be struck down," says attorney Ethan Blevins, who represents a group of residents challenging the city's stepped-up enforcement — such as searching for food scraps in recycling bins.

City officials disagree with that interpretation and say they are being pushed to improve recycling efforts and become more efficient in controlling what winds up in landfills.

Robert Seder, a City Hall attorney, says the residents group has "a fundamental misunderstanding of police power, which allows the city to enact this ordinance. This is not a constitutional violation in any way, shape or form."

In a recently filed brief on invasion-of-privacy issues, to be argued by the city and residents Friday, Seder said the city's aim is to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions and global warming through expanded recycling. Seattle Public Utilities says the new law is expected to divert 38,000 tons of food scraps from landfills and redirect them into composting.

"The case has very little to do with the state constitution," Seder states, "and nothing to do with 'the government snooping through garbage.'"

The case was heard last Thursday and a ruling is expected before the end of the month.

The regulations were passed in 2014 and took effect in January 2015. This included the approval of a $1 fine for people who tossed too much food waste into their cans. At first the city was just leaving warnings with a plan to start levying the $1 fines in July 2015. In the first month, the Seattle Public Utilities were flagging close to 300 customers per day—about 1 percent of the collection base.

But then in April, the city announced it was postponing the fines for the rest of the year and instead planned to start collecting them in January of this year.

Then, in July, the privacy lawsuit was launched.

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