Seattle gives you three choices: Eat all your dinner, have a smelly compost bin, or pay a fine


Happy planet, happy composter, happy flies.

There’s a lot not to love about a compost bin: The smell. The fruit flies. The general ick factor. The Seattle City Council has a response to your concerns:  Get used to it or else. A little background: In 2009, Seattle passed an ordinance that said every resident, whether a single-family homeowner or apartment dweller, must practice mandatory composting or pay fines. The city delivered 13-gallon composting carts to every homeowner, and currently force them to pay a $5.15 a month pickup charge. They also offer a 96-gallon bin for $9.90/month.

At the same time, they gave residents a way to opt out of the curbside composting program: Buy a large green cone-shaped bin for at least $119, and let a city inspector check to be sure you have one.

On the city’s website, the first sentence describing this program is straight out of 1984: “Residents of Seattle enjoy the luxury (italics mine) of a city-wide composting program in addition to regular garbage and recycling pick up.”

Why so pushy? Two reasons. First, it’s to help Seattle have a recycling rate of 60 percent by 2015. Second, this change is expected to generate an additional 38,000 tons of compost material every year. The city then delivers your eggshells, coffee grounds, and apple cores to a private company, Cedar Grove, who turn your compost into a retail product.

In other words, Seattle charges every homeowner over $60 a year to become worker bees who supply Cedar Grove with a cash crop. If the compost were sold in bulk, it would sell for close to $2 million. But Cedar Grove likes to sell it in 5 pound bags, which have a street value north of $75 million.

This  bad enough, but on September 28, 2014, it got much worse. By a 9-0 vote, the Seattle City Council passed an ordinance that says every time bad citizens put more than 10 percent of food scraps in their garbage, they’ll be fined a dollar.

But there’s a silver lining: Even though Seattle forces you to compost, invades the privacy of your garbage can, and fines you for not focusing on your scraps, they want to help you be a better composter.

On the website, there’s an FAQ section that has these cheery hints:

Q: What can be done about a smelly compost pile?

A: Smelly piles are caused by too much water, no air, or the addition of meat or other animal products. Fix these problems by:
* Mixing fresh grass clippings with stalks or brown leaves to help air get in.
* Keeping the pile as moist as a wrung-out sponge, but not soggy.
* Turning wet or soggy piles to let air in.

Q: Are rats attracted to compost? How can I get rid of them?

A: Two things attract rats:

1.) Food scraps- especially meat and dairy products. Never put food in your yard waste compost pile or bin – rats will chew right in. Instead use the more rodent-resistant worm bin, Green Cone or home-made food waste digester designs (call the Hotline, or see website at top.)

2.) Sometimes a dry compost pile can attract rats as a nest site, especially if close to a fence or building. Keep your pile moist enough to compost, and it won’t attract them.

Q: How can I stop flies and other insects from becoming pests around the compost pile?

A: Don’t put food scraps in the pile. Bury excess garden produce or fallen fruit.

That’s nice, but if you live in Seattle, I suggest an alternative composting method: Gather as much compostable material as you like. Let it ripen in a large plastic bag. Take it to the Seattle City Council chambers and vote with your moist, fragrant eggshells.

Composting Food – It’s the Law! A Part of Seattle’s Zero Waste Initiative

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