Seattle food waste ordinance takes effect

Residents are no longer allowed to place food or compostable items in the trash.

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January 8, 2015

New food waste requirements for the city of Seattle took effect Jan. 1, 2015. According to a city-issued news advisory, it will no longer allow food or compostable paper, including pizza boxes, paper napkins and paper towels, to be placed in the garbage.

The food waste requirements, part of the city’s solid waste comprehensive plan, were passed in 2014 by the Seattle City Council and signed into law by Mayor Ed Murray. The ordinance is projected to divert as much as 38,000 more tons of food scraps from the landfill each year, helping Seattle achieve its goal to recycle or compost 60 percent of its waste by 2015.

“Seattle is a national leader in recycling,” says Tim Croll, solid waste director of Seattle Public Utilities (SPU). “Most of our city’s businesses and residents are already composting. This requirement is a progression of our collective efforts that help our city become even greener.”

Seattle's recyclables and yard waste have been prohibited from the garbage for more than a decade. Prior to submitting the food waste legislation, SPU polled businesses and residents and found widespread support for the measure. The city says a Survey USA telephone poll conducted in June 2014 found that more than three out of four Seattle residents polled supported the proposal.

Organics—food, paper napkins, cardboard pizza boxes, leaves and grass—make up the largest component of Seattle’s waste. SPU estimates that 30 percent of the 317,000 tons of trash disposed of in the landfill in 2013 was compostable.

Seattle began biweekly curbside residential vegetative food waste collection in 2005. In 2009 Seattle required all residents to participate in food waste collection or backyard composting, and started collecting food and yard waste every week, including meat, fish and dairy. SPU estimates that businesses and residents have diverted nearly 400,000 tons of food from the landfill since 2005.

Today, more than 300,000 single-family, multifamily and commercial properties participate in food and yard waste collection. Seattleites divert more than 125,000 tons of food and yard waste from the landfill each year, according to the city. In 2013 Seattle's diverted 56.2 percent of its waste—407,125 tons—from the landfill via recycling and composting.

Seattle is the latest of several cities that have passed food waste requirements, including: Vancouver, British Columbia; Portland, Oregon; San Francisco; and New York City.