Judge tosses Seattle ordinance requiring garbage-can searches for food waste

by Valerie Richardson  |  published on April 29, 2016

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.”

  • Don Ranski

    Don’t dismiss it out of hand folks. I’d suggest that the local trash collectors sort through the garbage for one week. Then distribute and recycle the rescued waste on the front lawns of the local politicians. ‘Compost’, after all, “waste not want not”.

  • exoticdoc2

    Seattle’s liberal lunatics really are certifiable. Searching people’s garbage? Get a life you nanny state freaks.

  • Pam

    Don’t get me wrong. I think Seattle’s entire “garbage nazi” ordinance is a prime example of “nanny state”, big government BS. BUT I am curious about two things:
    1. How does this court ruling jive with all the prior court rulings that have determined that once anything hits the open air, outside in a garbage can, a person or business loses all expectation of privacy and protection against search because by throwing something away they are freely giving up that expectation?
    2. How could anyone possibly prove that it was the occupants of the property to which the garbage can is attached who were the ones who put the offending articles in that receptacle?

    • Tom Flores

      I was wondering the same thing on the court rulings some years ago. That involved the FBI & other Federal agencies. Also how would they determine what is 10% or more?

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