Seattle Uses Stickers Before Fines on Garbage

The Atlantic labels Seattle’s compost stickers “Scarlet Letters” for their program to divert 38,000 tons of food scraps from landfills to compost facilities.

One of the cities leading the charge in the effort to staunch food waste is Seattle, which passed a law last September that requires residents to compost leftover food. The law went into effect in January, but to educate Seattleites the city is using a particularly aggressive method: shame.

If the city’s waste-management contractors encounter a house, apartment, or commercial property with garbage containing more than 10 percent recyclables or food, they tag the garbage bins with a bright red sticker. “I’m sure neighbors are going to see these on their other neighbors’ cans,” one contractor told NPR earlier this week. “Right now, I’m tagging probably every fifth can.”
“The stickers are like getting an ‘F’ on a school paper.”

“The stickers are like getting an ‘F’ on a school paper,” one Seattle resident wrote in an email, adding that some craftier residents were simply using their garbage disposals more to skirt the law.

The sticker system will continue until July, at which time Seattle begins fining “households, landlords, and businesses for failing to sort food waste.” Fines range from $1 for houses and multiple residence apartments and buildings fined $50 for failure to comply with the composting regulations.

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