Last year, the city of Seattle enacted a far-reaching ban on the use of plastic bags by retailers and grocery stores. The ban came with a penalty of $250 for all violators, as well as a small fee for those stores that continued to use paper bags. Similar laws were enacted before the bag ban that made recycling mandatory for all businesses and residents. The only problem is that the city’s Utilities Department lacks the resources to inspect even a quarter of local businesses and residents to ascertain that everyone is following the city’s stringent trash disposal laws.
According to Seattle Pi, the city currently has three inspectors that are charged with inspecting Seattle’s dumpsters to ensure that businesses and individuals are adhering to the rules. This small task force assigned to enforcing the bag ban and recycling laws has resulted in a total of 0 fines handed out for improper waste disposal. This also includes a mandated $50 fine for residents who do not recycle their paper, cardboard, or yard debris.
However, the lack of action in fining those who do not follow the recycling laws cannot be solely placed on the inspectors. The problem also lies with a provision buried within the ordinance that allowed the continued use of plastic bags for things such as produce and meat. Retailers were also allowed to use their current inventory of plastic bags until they ran out, which may account for a portion of stores that still use the bags.
Seattle’s Public Utilities Department acknowledges that it does not have the manpower nor the inclination to fine everyone who is in violation of the city’s trash disposal rules. It views the current city ordinances as guidelines, rather than actionable offenses. It employs several other members of its department as an outreach group that contacts residents and business owners who are found in violation of the rules. So far, it seems that most people who are warned about their disposal behaviors make the appropriate adjustments after being contacted by a member of the Utilities Department.
In any case, the city continues to maintain a high recycling rate with roughly 55% of all waste being reused or recycled.