By this time next year, residents of Seattle could be facing fines for putting too much compostable material into their weekly trash. Currently, those who live in single-family homes are encouraged to separate food waste and compostable paper products from their regular garbage, but this is not a requirement.

With the new rule, garbage collectors look at the residents’ trash each time it is dumped into the truck. If they see that food waste or other compostable materials make up more than 10% of the volume, they enter the violation into the computer system. They will then leave a ticket on the garbage can explaining that there can be a $1 fine expected on the next collection bill.

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Fines at apartments with shared receptacles will face similar fines, but it will be handled slightly differently. They will still be subject to the same 10% threshold, but they will get two warnings before being hit with a fine of $50 on the third violation.

Seattle Public Utilities doesn’t expect to be collecting very many fines. The goal isn’t to raise money from the new rule. It is being set as more of a “warning” system to help remind people to separate their trash. Recyclable items were outlawed from going in the trash in a similar law nine years ago, and only a couple thousand dollars in fines have been collected since then.

Seattle wants to recycle 60% of its materials by 2015. With only 56% at the end of 2013, they were improving from the previous year, but falling short of pace to reach the final goal.

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Some Seattle residents are unhappy with the new rule, and are saying it will be difficult to be consistent. How do the trash collectors really know what 10% is? How will  managers of apartment complexes know who is disposing compostable materials and who would be responsible for the fine? Questions and issues like these will hopefully be addressed before the new rule comes into play.

The vote came through with a unanimous 9-0 from the council and no additional hearing was required. Warnings will start to be delivered in January of 2015, but the fines will not start until June.

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What should you do about it?

There are many ways to keep your food waste out of the garbage (and keep that extra fine from showing up on your garbage bill.) Here are the two main ones. They’re not complicated, and everyone can do them!

1) Create less food waste in the first place

Don’t ever buy more than you need. Create a weekly shopping list and stick to those items. Often times, food will end up in the back of the refrigerator, never to be used. By the time it is found days, weeks or even months later, it has spoiled and there is no choice but to dispose of it. By only buying what you foresee yourself using in the near future, you lessen the chances of food sitting around and going to waste. This will also cut down your grocery bill significantly! (A win-win!)

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2) Create a compost pile for food scraps

If you are growing a garden of vegetables or flowers, having a ready compost bin will get your plants the nutrients they need to thrive. Make sure you have a clear understanding about which items can go in compost (don’t be throwing your fast food patties in there!) Items like fruit peels are great compost materials. There are many resources online about gardening and composting. We have even written about how you can easily make your own compost bin!