A state judge threw out a portion of a Seattle ordinance requiring garbage collectors to snoop through residents’ trash in search of food waste, calling the provision unconstitutional.
King County Superior Court Judge Beth M. Andrus issued an injunction against the garbage inspections but not Seattle’s residential food-waste ban, which forbids throwing away food scraps and compostable paper.
“This ruling does not prohibit the city from banning food waste and compostable paper in SPU-provided garbage cans,” the 14-page decision said, referring to the Seattle Public Utilities. “It merely renders invalid the provisions of the ordinance and rule that authorize a warrantless search of residents’ garbage cans when there is no applicable exception to the warrant requirement, such as the existence of prohibited items in plain view.”
Under the 2015 ordinance, garbage collectors were required to determine by “visual inspection” whether more than 10 percent of a trash can’s contents were made up of recyclable items or food waste. Violators are subject to having their garbage cans tagged and fines of $1 per can for curbside collections or $50 per collection for multi-family units.
Ethan Blevins, attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation, which filed the lawsuit last year on behalf of eight Seattle residents, called the ruling a “victory for common sense and constitutional rights.”
“A clear message has been sent to Seattle public officials: Recycling and other environmental initiatives can’t be pursued in a way that treats people’s freedoms as disposable,” Mr. Blevins said in a statement. “Seattle can’t place its composting goals over the privacy rights of its residents.”
The lawsuit argued that the ordinance essentially allowed warrantless searches, which Mr. Blevins described as an invasion of privacy and a “policy of massive and persistent snooping.”
The measure, which went into effect in January 2015, is intended to encourage conservation by requiring residents to separate their food waste and compostable paper for recycling in order to meet Seattle’s goal of composting 60 percent of waste.
“Before the ordinance, Seattle sent approximately 100,000 tons of food waste 300 miles to a landfill in eastern Oregon each year. This resulted in higher costs and greenhouse gas emissions,” said Seattle Public Utilities on its website.
“Today, Seattle sends more than 125,000 tons of food and yard waste to composting processors. The material is now turned into compost for local parks and gardens,” the website said.