By Eric Boehm | Watchdog.org
If the cops in Seattle want to dig through a city resident’s garbage to look for evidence of a crime, they have to go get a warrant first.
But garbage collectors in Seattle are not only allowed to dig through the trash without a judge’s consent, they’re actually required to do so.
Seattle is on the cutting edge of nanny state-ism with a new citywide ban on throwing any compostable material into the trash, no matter how gross, smelly or disgusting it might be. The city government is serious about this — so serious that they have deputized the trashmen as a sort of secret police who are being ordered to rat on residents’ trash habits to the nannies at Seattle Public Utilities.
If this sounds like an arrangement that violates a whole bunch of amendments to the U.S. Constitution (and the Washington State Constitution too, in the event you’re familiar with it), well, you’re not alone.
The Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit law firm that loves challenging ridiculous government regulations like this one, filed a lawsuit Thursday asking a state judge to shut down the Seattle trash-snooping program.
“While it’s laudable to encourage recycling and composting, the city is going about it in a way that trashes the privacy rights of each and every person in Seattle,” said Brian Hodges, managing attorney for PLF’s Pacific Northwest Center, based in suburban Seattle.
According to the Seattle Times, city officials declined to comment on the lawsuit and said Thursday they were still reviewing it.
The ban on food waste, which we’ve covered in this space before, requires garbage collectors to search through the contents of garbage cans (and you thought being a garbage collector was bad enough already) and to report violations to Seattle Public Utilities, the bureaucratic entity that imposed the ban and will soon begin issuing fines for violations.
The new rules took effect Jan. 1, but the city is graciously allowing for an education period before it begins issuing fines to people who carelessly toss an apple core or a toilet paper tube into the wastebasket.
For now, offending trash bins will have an “educational tag” attached. The lawsuit estimates some 9,000 of those tags were issued between January and April, including two to one of the eight named plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
Those warnings will go away next January when the fines start coming for real.
Single-family homes will face a $1 fine for each instance where compostable material is found in the garbage. Apartment complexes and commercial buildings will see fines of $50 (!!) per instance.
“But wait,” you might be saying. “I put my garbage into an opaque, black bag before I toss it into the can. Surely, I’ll be fine.”
Nope. Seattle Public Utilities is a step ahead of you.
According to training documents obtained by PLF, garbage collectors are being told to enforce the policy with ‘zero tolerance’ and are being taught to remove bags to inspect a garbage can, peer into translucent bags and open torn or untied bags.
“In short, this program calls for massive and persistent snooping on the people of Seattle,” said Hodges. “This is not just objectionable as a matter of policy, it is a flagrant assault on people’s constitutional rights.”
I’d say Seattle officials have thrown the constitution into the garbage — but since it’s printed on paper, they probably know better than that.
I’m sure they remembered to compost it instead.
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