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

January 20, 2009

There are some big recycling changes happening in Seattle in 2009. Already, styro-coffin take-away food containers are banned. Next up, in April, all food waste, including meat and dairy, will no longer belong in the trash can. Instead, homeowners will be expected to include it in their yard waste pick up. But, what if you don’t subscribe to curbside yard waste?

2009 Food & Yard Waste Carts

2009 Food & Yard Waste Carts

Well, if you live in an apartment, it appears you won’t be required to compost your food scraps. If you live in a single family residence, you will need to compost your food. New 13-gallon carts for compostables should be delivered to your home by the end of March, and you will be billed for pick up beginning in May.  You do have the option or order a cart larger than the standard 13-gallon size, which will cost you $3.60/month. The largest option is 96 gallons, which will run you $6.90/month.

What if you compost at home? Well, you can opt out of the curbside composting program. But, be aware that by doing so you may get a visit to verify you have a compost system at home!

If you do want a different size container or if you want to opt out of the program, you must notify Seattle Public Utilties of your choice no later than January 31, 2009. The form and additional information is available online here.

Personally, I do it all. I have indoor and outdoor vermicomposting systems as well as a passive leaf clipping composter. As well, I subscribe to curbside yard waste pick up. In our two-person household, we produce more food waste than our worm bins can process. And, our garden produces more clippings than our smallish bin can handle, and honestly, I’d rather use my limited garden space to garden than to put up a huge composting bin system. I have the option; I can pay to have my weeds and other waste taken away for just a few dollars a month. Yes, I end up buying in several yards of finished compost each year, but honestly, I doubt given my space and inputs, I could produce the volume of return material that I need anyway.

Plus, with the city’s recycling program slated to process meat, dairy and fish waste, the price is an even bigger bonus. In vermin-infested city limits where high-heat compost systems are unlikely, processing meat byproducts in compost just isn’t a great idea. I’m sure someone out there is having success, but frankly, for a few extra bucks a month, I’m happy to have the city haul it away for me.

A few questions remain for me about how this system will succeed:

  1. Just how nasty will these bins get, especially in the heat of summer? When food waste goes into plastic garbage bags, it’s fairly well contained. When it goes into an open pile of vegetative rubbish, what kind of nastiness will we be in for — even with 1x/weekly yard waste pick up?
  2. Will rats, crows, seagulls and other critters invade? Sure, they don’t get into the trash cans too often now, but leave the lid off on trash day and watch the party start. If the flip-floppy yardwaste lids remain a bit open from a too-long stick or a bushy pile of grass clippings, will the steak trimmings and moldy cheese bring in the vermin?

What’s next for the zero-waste initiative? Well, if you live in Seattle, you’ll remember all the hype about instituting a fee for having your groceries bagged in a store bag. Well, last I heard this was sent back to the table. Will it be put into play this year? We’ll see. What I have noticed, empirically, is more people using their own bags at the store more often. Good for you Seattle!


  1. […] clear, what’s happening as of January 1, 2015 is enforcement of a long-standing part of the greater zero-waste initiatives in Seattle, which are discussed in detail here. In the beginning, there were no fines for being too […]

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