Seattleites Call Trash-Inspection Law Garbage

     SEATTLE (CN) – Seattle is illegally searching trash cans without warrants looking for recycling scofflaws, a group of residents claim in court.
     Although Seattle has one of the highest recycling and composting rates in the nation, the city passed a law in September 2014 that fines residents for discarding food or recyclables in their personal garbage bins.
     “The ordinance directs garbage collectors and Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) inspectors to search both residential and business garbage cans, without suspicion or a warrant, in order to estimate whether compostable materials or recyclables make up a ‘significant amount’ of a garbage can’s contents,” according to the complaint filed on July 16 in King County Superior Court.
     Richard Bonesteel and seven other plaintiff residents contend that the city’s new garbage-inspection law “violates privacy rights on a massive scale.”
     If garbage collectors find a can has more than 10 percent of food or recyclables, Seattle Public Utilities places a warning sticker on the can. Fines will allegedly start in 2016.
     “The city’s garbage inspection law violates privacy rights on a massive scale. Seattle has an estimated population of 652,500,” the complaint states. “The ordinance directs garbage collectors to invade the private affairs of each and every Seattle resident and business on a weekly basis. The city and its agents began enforcing the ordinance in January 2015. From January through April 2015, the city issued an estimated 9,000 notices of violation.”
     Bonesteel and the other plaintiffs say that Seattle will enforce the ordinance without notice to residents and businesses or an opportunity to challenge violations resulting from the “warrantless inspections.”
     The residents want an injunction against the warrantless inspections, a judgment that the ordinance is unconstitutional, and damages for invasion of privacy and violation of due process.
     Their attorney at Pacific Legal Foundation, Ethan Blevins, issued a statement about the lawsuit.
     “Seattle can’t place its composting goals over the privacy and due process rights of its residents,” Blevins said in a statement. “This food waste ban uses trash collectors to pry through people’s garbage without a warrant, as Washington courts have long required for garbage inspections by police.”
     For the City Attorney’s Office, the the Seattle Public Utilities program “fully complies with the law, including the enhanced privacy protections afforded by the Washington constitution.”
     “SPU believes the instructions we’ve given to our collectors upholds the Washington state Constitution and civil liberties,” SPU said in a statement. “There is no intention of opening trash bags. Containers are only tagged if the contamination is clearly visible. The guidelines state: if you can’t see, don’t report it and don’t tag it.”

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