In Seattle, You’ll Be Fined For That

January 26, 2015 2:54 PM ET

from KUOW

Seattle garbage collector Anousone Sadettanh empties a small residential garbage bin into his truck in 2014. It is now illegal to toss out food with the trash in the city. Residents will get warning tags for now; the city will start imposing fines in July.

Seattle garbage collector Anousone Sadettanh empties a small residential garbage bin into his truck in 2014. It is now illegal to toss out food with the trash in the city. Residents will get warning tags for now; the city will start imposing fines in July.

Elaine Thompson/AP

In Seattle, wasting food will now earn you a scarlet letter — well, a scarlet tag, to be more accurate.

The bright red tag, posted on a garbage bin, tells everyone who sees it that you’ve violated a new city law that makes it illegal to put food into trash cans.

“I’m sure neighbors are going to see these on their other neighbors’ cans,” says Rodney Watkins, a lead driver for Recology CleanScapes, a waste contractor for the city. He’s on the front lines of enforcing these rules.

Seattle is the first city in the nation to fine people for not properly sorting their garbage. The law took effect on Jan. 1 as a bid to keep food out of landfills. Other cities like San Francisco and Vancouver mandate composting, but don’t penalize homeowners directly.

Recology CleanScapes driver Rodney Watkins issues a red tag — the scarlet letter of food waste in Seattle. i

Recology CleanScapes driver Rodney Watkins issues a red tag — the scarlet letter of food waste in Seattle.

Amy Radil/KUOW

As Watkins made the rounds in Maple Leaf, a residential neighborhood of Seattle, earlier this month, he appeared disheartened to find an entire red velvet cake in someone’s trash bin. Any household with more than 10 percent food in its garbage earns a bright red tag notifying it of the infraction.

“Right now, I’m tagging probably every fifth can,” Watkins says. “I don’t know if that’s just the holidays, or the fact that I’m actually paying a lot more attention.”

Watkins doesn’t have to comb through the trash — the forbidden items are plain to see.

“You can see all the oranges and coffee grounds,” he says, raising one lid. “All that makes great compost. You can put that in your compost bin and buy it back next year in a bag and put it in your garden.”

Seattle Public Utilities estimates that every family in the city throws away some 400 pounds of food each year. The city gives households bins to fill with their food and yard waste. But residents don’t have to compost it themselves: They can just leave the bins curbside and have the city pick it up for a fee.

The new law is meant to help Seattle increase its recycling and composting rate to 60 percent of all its waste — the city is currently 4 percentage points below that.

The red tags are part of the public education campaign about the new law; the city won’t actually start issuing fines until July. Single households will pay $1 per violation, but apartments, condos and commercial buildings could be fined $50. That has apartment and condominium dwellers a little nervous.

Jim Ward owns a condo in a large building in the Laurelhurst neighborhood. He says his neighbors include people from many different countries who may not be familiar with Seattle’s recycling rules. Ward came down to the building’s recycling bin recently and it was a mess.

“I found dirty rags with oil on them and just really messy pieces of plastic that were wet,” he says. So Ward took the opportunity to do some outreach.

“I ended up actually taking those things and putting them on the main counter in the lobby of the condominium, and I just wrote a note to everyone and I said, ‘Are these things recyclable?’

Seattle’s push for more recycling comes as the state’s overall recycling rate has gone down slightly. The Washington Department of Ecology says the recycling rate slipped to 49 percent in 2013 from 50, although that’s still among the highest in the nation.

The city’s consumer recycling capabilities are pretty high-tech, with machines to separate paper, glass and plastic. And come July, Seattle will also start issuing fines for too much recyclable materials mixed in the trash. That has been illegal for several years, but haulers had just been leaving garbage on the curb when that happened.

Now, leaving an empty tub of butter or mayonnaise jar in the rubbish bin could earn you a red tag, too.

Amy Radil is a reporter with member station KUOW in Seattle. A version of this story first appeared on the KUOW website.

Like Wet Gritty Dough

The List

  • shampoo/conditioner
  • razors
  • bath oil
  • toothbrush
  • toothpaste
  • mouthwash
  • dental floss
  • facial cleanser
  • moisturizer
  • lipstick
  • antiperspirant
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • calamine lotion
  • antibiotic cream
  • hair product
  • lip balm
  • Vaseline
  • medication/vitamins
  • brush/comb
  • saline solution
  • q-tips
  • hair dryer

Are you getting sick of looking at this? Me too. I’ve abolished two items: shampoo and conditioner. I’ve survived a week without putting anything on my hair but baking soda, (and product,) and it looks and feels fine. In fact, my hair is double process blonde and my scalp has not itched since I started this new regime. Okay my hair is only like 2 inches long. I feel like I should make that disclaimer.

So the first time I scrubbed my head with baking soda was a little weird. The stuff feels like wet, gritty dough, but once it was thoroughly rinsed, my hair just felt a little denser. It seems like the baking soda absorbs some of the natural oils and then rinses away just shy of completely. My hair felt like there was still something in it, but not in a bad way.

As for the rest, ugg. I think cosmetics can be bundled. Lush uses refillable packaging. I haven’t tried their products yet, but I’ve heard good things. This could potentially solve: shampoo/conditioner, bath oil, facial cleanser, moisturizer and hair product. The list is getting shorter. I don’t expect you to focus on the slow deconstruction of this list with the same level of interest I have so the blog is going to return to other subjects of interest. I will post the ever dwindling, (hopefully,) list as a sidebar just as soon as I figure out how to do that.

Oh yeah and we found toothbrushes made with recycled wood, paper, and money at Whole Foods. They’re called Source Brushes and made by a company called Radius.


Happy Face.



Going “No Poo”

You know how as soon as you buy a motorcycle all you see are motorcycles? Or you get pregnant and suddenly everyone is pregnant? I’ve been trying to figure out how to reduce my dependence upon plastic and suddenly I find lots of web sites devoted to this very issue. There is even some sort of “no poo” movement of people who have stopped using shampoo. Who knew?

I haven’t found many solutions that I hadn’t already considered, but I did find lots of details on how to change my usage. Here is a site that has been devoted to reducing plastic use since 2007 and has some great ideas, including 100 steps to a plastic free life.

The first thing I’m going to try is baking soda as deodorant. I’m skeptical because it isn’t that I just don’t want to smell. I don’t want to sweat. I know, I know, it’s natural, blah, blah, blah. I don’t like it and since I’m trying to make changes that I think the average reader might be willing to make I’m going to stick with the goal of complete dryness. It’s definitely worth a try though. I will report back.

I’m going no poo too. There are numerous claims out there that baking soda and apple cider vinegar can replace shampoo entirely and they come in cardboard and glass, respectively. I’ve been slathering my hair with toxic chemicals for years and then adding insult to injury by washing it daily with commercial shampoo. The gentleman who lightened it up recently suggested I scale back to washing it every few days instead. This was difficult. My hair felt dirty. I felt dirty. Once I adjusted though, I loved it. It is so much easier to style a day or two after being washed. I am now much more amenable to the idea of not washing it at all, at least not with commercial shampoo. So, I am going to be making my own shampoo, it just won’t have any poo.

The basic recipe is to premix 1 tablespoon baking soda with 1 cup water or just mix up a paste in the shower with a tablespoon or less of baking soda and apply to really wet hair. Let it sit for a minute, then rinse. The rinse is 1-2 tablespoons of Apple Cider Vinegar per cup of water. Apply to wet hair, massage into scalp and rinse off with cold water. I did read a warning somewhere though that the baking soda has to be completely rinsed from your hair before introducing vinegar to the scene. Beware.

For those not ready to give up shampoo entirely, I found this at Whole Foods.


It cost $5.99, which frankly is more than I normally spend on poo and I have my doubts about how long the bar will last, but I’m going to get a friend to try it. We will report our findings.

Shave Your Head


The list is not terribly popular with my friends, (see Taking Apart The List.) The overall response has been a variation of, “Good luck with that.” I think most of us are willing to clean our homes with vinegar and baking soda when it comes down to it, but no one is anxious to part with their facial cleanser or antiperspirant. A welcome exception was my friend Elise who tackled the list with wit and enthusiasm, but she’s Parisian so what do you expect?

Some of her suggestions:

Shampoo/Conditioner —> Change your style for Christ sake!! Shave your head. It will give you that sexy look of Sigourney Weaver in Alien 3 and reduce the need for shampoo for a while… ah but yes! Razor is the issue. See ‘razor’ section.

razors — invest in a proper barber’s razor, see pic — actually as far as I am concerned I don’t shave with a razor but with honey and sugar (yes, truly). What? Look into this.

straight razor

bath oil — OMG is it a cultural thing??? I am not using any?!?

toothbrush — use Bamboo toothbrush (yes that exists it is called Brush With Bamboo) Brosse à dents en bambou

This is an idea that appeals and would probably make me feel very hip and European. They sell them at the local apothecary, but really you still have to throw it away, right? My MSF doesn’t recycle bamboo with bristles. Besides, most of us are now addicted to our electric toothbrushes. Mine runs on batteries, which I’ve just realized is worse. Is there no end to this?

toothpaste — hmm, can’t really do without yes? Wait to be older and lose them all?

hair product — still : no hair

lip balm — use butter (can carry in some wooden container — requires DIY skills but can be done) This is disgusting.

Le Mardi 16 décembre 2014 5h28



The more I learn about garbage the more I find myself dashing off in several different directions. The one thing that’s been obvious from day one is that there’s too much garbage. I’m not sure how far beyond that basic fact I’ve gotten. I think we can all agree that anything is better than landfill, (except perhaps for incineration, but that’s a discussion for a future post.) Suffice to say that recycling and composting are better than landfilling. Reusing and re-purposing should always be attempted before discarding AND buying and using less stuff to begin with is the best solution of all. But all of this leads off in many directions.

Recycling is complicated for so many reasons. It tends to lull us into believing that it doesn’t matter how much we use as long as we recycle it, which ISN’T true. Every Materials Sorting Facility has a different set of guidelines on what it can and cannot accept and even within those guidelines discards have to be in a certain condition AND this varies from facility to facility. If you discard some plastic that’s sticky and residuey it can contaminate a whole batch of materials at your local MSF. It makes one begin to feel a bit hopeless, doesn’t it? I don’t want to feel hopeless, but it’s hard to discern the wisest course. Educating ourselves on exactly what is and isn’t accepted, and in what condition, by our local MSF and then adhering to those guidelines is obviously an excellent first step. Composting or contributing to a local composting effort deals with organic waste. But even if everyone did those two things, we would still need to think about how much we’re consuming.

Then there’s the question of packaging and whose responsibility it is to deal with all of the packaging and how much waste is involved in the production of those things we’re consuming. What if every toothbrush you use actually represents 20 times as much refuse in its production? And what about e waste, a whole new category of garbage that isn’t actually all that new? And then there’s the effect all of this stuff is having on the countries to which it is being shipped in greater and greater quantities. I never used to think about what happened to my laptop when I was finished with it, or my cell phone, which is designed to last about a year, which brings me to planned obsolescence. Perhaps you can see why the blog might begin to seem a bit unfocused. It is that there are just so many things to focus on. So, instead of trying to manage the unmanageable, I’m going to start categorizing posts by what I see as the main subject. Of course there will be lots of overlap, but you can bring up info on recycling or composting or product packaging by clicking on the that category name under a given post. That way I can follow where the research leads without feeling like I’m all over the map. The map will have a map so to speak.

Circular Reasoning

So Pretty (640x434)

on 2014/04/16 Judith Barr wrote:

So, cleaning my apartment, throwing out expired eggs or groceries and my used tissues only cleans my space while contributing to landfill proliferation? Trash is inevitable and polluting even our oceans. How about launching those trash barges into space? But then the refuse from the launch pollutes the stratosphere. Do I sense circular reasoning?

I’m not sure about circular reasoning, but everything we produce and use certainly circles back to us. Before we start launching things into space maybe we could just rethink our relationship with stuff. If we were to accept the fact that much of what we buy will still be around in a thousand years it might just change what we buy.

Dispose (di-spohz) to place suitably or in order, disposed the troops in two lines. dispose of, to get rid of; to deal with.
Rid (rid) to free from something unpleasant or unwanted. get rid of, to cause to go away.

Circular reasoning indeed, we’re back to away. So, how to solve this problem? Well I hate to mention it, but what if instead of solving it we just stopped creating it?

But, but, but I like my paper towels and scrubbing bubbles and single-serving boxes of juice, not to mention my new computer and my big screen TV. I know, so do I. Whattodo? This is where we get into that dangerous no man’s land of stark, ugly facts that no one wants to think about. How much do we like our TVs and how much do we like the ocean?

The purpose of this blog, I’m pretty sure, is to try and identify changes that I can live with that shrink my garbage footprint fairly significantly with the obnoxious implied message that if I can do it, you can do it. It is of equal importance to continue a dialogue about the thornier issues like how much we consume and industrial waste streams and why the weather is getting weirder and weirder.

We now have a page dedicated to the most basic rules governing single-stream, curbside recycling and we’re adding links to resources for recycling stuff that can’t go in the curbside bin.

Garbage, it’s unpleasant

Morning Trash

I’ve never thought too much about garbage. I mean it’s bad and there’s too much of it, right? I didn’t see the connection to me, per se. But then my cat, Fu, tore through an entire bag of garbage in the wee hours and more or less upholstered my kitchen with it.

On my way to the coffee maker Fu rubbed against my leg and left something behind, something viscous and wet. I’m not very astute pre-coffee. That’s an understatement. So I couldn’t begin to guess how my cat, usually soft and warm, was cold and slimy. My eyes had yet to focus. Then I felt a wet crunch beneath my foot and stood staring at my wet eggy sock trying to understand how an eggshell had gotten beneath it and what was happening to my life.

Garbage. It’s unpleasant. No one wants it around. I thought about all of the unpleasantness being produced in homes all around me and being carted off Godknowswhere. Even I know that when it comes to garbage there is no “away.” I realized that I wasn’t really mad at my cat so much as upset about how much garbage I was producing all by myself and the fact that it was now being brought to my attention. In other words I was going to have to think about it.

I hate thinking about stuff.

I’m not a crusader. I mean I have strong opinions, but I don’t actually do anything about them. I’m not really sure what to do about this, but it bothers me and it seems that the first order of business is to find out what and how much I’m throwing out.

So I’ve decided to photograph my garbage. Disgusting…yes, but it seems to me that part of the reason we produce so much garbage is because we don’t have to look at it. It’s magically hauled away by trucks, which if acknowledged at all are acknowledged for being too loud or blocking the alley. We are insanely spoiled.

What possible service could be rendered by garbage pics? I think a closer relationship with my trash will help me see how I can reduce it without making any huge changes. It’s not that I have anything against huge changes. Ok, that’s a lie, but I really believe that small changes might have a big impact and I don’t think the average person is willing to make huge changes at the drop of a hat. Just because I had this garbage epiphanette doesn’t mean everyone wants to cancel their newspaper and quit drinking beer.

I’ll start my experiment tomorrow morning with empty trash receptacles. I’m not going to change my lifestyle. In fact, I will resist any urge to produce less garbage. I want an accurate record of what I throw out in a typical week. I’ll photograph every item going into the trash or the recycling bin and the sum total at the end of the week. And then we will see what’s what. I want to apologize in advance for what you’re going to see. Just so you know I’m a type A. I would wash the garbage before showing it to you if I could.

Remorse The Perp