Seattle is about to start fining people for throwing away too much food



The Seattle City Council passed a new ordinance Monday that could mean $1 fines for people who toss too many table scraps into the trash. […]

Under the new rules, collectors can take a cursory look each time they dump trash into a garbage truck.

If they see compostable items make up 10 percent or more of the trash, they’ll enter the violation into a computer system their trucks already carry, and will leave a ticket on the garbage bin that says to expect a $1 fine on the next garbage bill.

Composting and not wasting food are obviously good things, but:

1. Kinda creepy. Obviously there’s not really a reasonable expectation of privacy with garbage, but we also don’t expect the garbage collectors to be actively rooting through our trash. Especially if you’re tossing medical stuff, like empty prescription bottles.

2. It’s difficult to imagine that this won’t eventually be abused. Trash can tell you a lot about someone’s life. In our “see something, say something” society, the garbage men may become de facto, warrant-free eyes and ears for the police department. Pot is legal in Seattle, but other drugs aren’t, and it’s especially easy to see how this policy could be a boon to the drug war. 

3. 10% could be awfully subjective. A dollar fined here and there can add up for a city budget, and there will be no real way to contest these fines. The fines will be based entirely on the garbage collector’s very quick estimation, and by the time the citizen finds out, their trash will be long gone. Even if the trash collectors estimate honestly to the best of their abilities, it seems naive to think that people won’t get fined unfairly.

4. If our garbage is up for review, what next? The crux of the issue here is not whether people should be responsible and frugal with their food and food waste. I think everyone pretty much agrees with that, even if they don’t necessarily practice it. Indeed, there are a lot of good things to do which we don’t let the government mandate, because we understand that adults should be able to make their own decisions. But if our trash is fair game for government review, what other surveillance powers might the government claim to make us “better” people?

Wouldn’t the public schools, which waste tons of good food every day thanks to Michelle Obama’s lunch program, be the most effected by this ridiculous ordinance?  Or are they exempt in normal government fashion?