By Jen Kinney.
Last month, Washington State’s Superior Court ruled unconstitutional a Seattle ordinance authorizing trash collectors to “visually inspect” residential garbage bags in order to ensure compliance with composting and recycling mandates. In a bid to increase recycling and composting rates to 60 percent of all waste, Seattle requires residents to separate those materials, and prohibits them from tossing such materials in the trash, at threat of a $1 fine for every scofflaw can. For recycling, the ordinance empowered trash collectors toaffix an educational tag on rule breakers’ cans if “more than 10 percent by volume” of their garbage bags consisted of recyclable materials. A similar regulation, without a percentage specified, applied to food waste and compostable paper violations.
Not anymore. Mayor Ed Murray indefinitely suspended the implementation of fines last April, so while educational tags were used, fines were never levied on single-family residential customers. Now the new court ruling has struck down all aspects of the composting and recycling regulation that deal with enforcement, on the basis of invasion of privacy, so the placement of educational materials has been suspended too. The court was particularly concerned that in most situations, unless non-compliant items were readily visible, “visual inspections” could not be carried out without some snooping. “The enforcement provisions of the ordinance and implementing rule, on their face, allow trash collectors to open and search the contents of a resident’s garbage bags, even when food waste or compostable paper is not in plain view,” reads the ruling.
Which raises the question: How can cities enforce recycling and composting mandates without peeking in the trash?