In Seattle, there is now a big difference between trash and food. A new city law makes it illegal to toss out your leftovers and food scraps with the rest of your garbage. Effective this July, the law will penalize city residents with a fine if they fail to separate their trash. City officials enacted the law on January 1 but Seattle residents won’t be fined for the offense until July 1. Until the fine goes into effect, sanitation workers will place a giant red tag on any garbage bags that appear to contain food waste. This is intended in part to remind folks of the new rules, but if residents feel a little embarrassment at the same time, all the better.

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This decision makes Seattle the first U.S. city to fine its residents for not composting. The new fine will also be assessed on residents who don’t separate their recyclables from their regular trash. Although that action has been illegal for several years, the only penalty was having the recyclables left on your curb after trash pickup. City officials hope that the new law, and the associated fines, will help residents get even more serious about recycling and composting efforts. This is part of a larger effort to boost city-wide recycling and composting to 60 percent, and the city only has four points to go toward that goal.

Seattle’s waste removal program is pretty sophisticated, as compared to the average U.S. city. Residents enjoy curbside pickup of a variety of unwanted items, not just trash. Seattle already makes it easy for people to recycle by providing a blue bin for paper, plastic, and so on, as well as a separate green container for food and yard waste.

Related: Food waste is the world’s third biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions

Keeping food waste out of landfills isn’t just about, well, food. Landfills are one of the greatest producers of methane gas, the second most prevalent greenhouse gas. So the push for composting in Seattle is as much to battle climate change as anything else.

One might be wonder what kind of fine such a green city would decide to impose on its residents in an effort to keep food waste out of landfills. City officials agreed on the appropriate amount for the food waste fine: one whole dollar.


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