San Francisco may soon deputize its garbage collectors and have them inspecting refuse before hauling it away.  Residents who fail to compost food waste could find themselves fined a thousand dollars and without garbage service, under a new proposal from Mayor Gavin Newsom:

Garbage collectors would inspect San Francisco residents’ trash to make sure pizza crusts aren’t mixed in with chip bags or wine bottles under a proposal by Mayor Gavin Newsom.

And if residents or businesses don’t separate the coffee grounds from the newspapers, they would face fines of up to $1,000 and eventually could have their garbage service stopped.

The plan to require proper sorting of refuse would be the nation’s first mandatory recycling and composting law. It would direct garbage collectors to inspect the trash to make sure it is put into the right blue, black or green bin, according to a draft of the legislation prepared by the city’s Department of the Environment.

The program is designed to limit the amount of food and foliage that goes into the city-contracted landfill in Alameda County, where the refuse takes up costly space and decomposes to form methane, one of the most potent of greenhouse gases. It will also help San Francisco, which city officials say currently diverts 70 percent of its waste from landfills, achieve a goal set by the Board of Supervisors to divert 75 percent by 2010 and have zero waste by 2020.

This stupidity extends to several levels.  First, let’s look at the practical implications of such a regulatory regime.  Trash collection requires efficient use of vehicles and personnel.  If sanitation workers have to stop and inspect every barrel and dumpster for compliance, it will make the entire process much more labor intensive and require an expansion of collection vehicles.  Not only would the cost be prohibitive, but the increase in idling vehicles waiting for inspections to end before moving to the next stop would actually make emissions even worse than before.

Next, how does one enforce compliance in multi-tenant dwellings?  Apartments and condos usually use communal dumpsters rather than individual barrels, again for efficiency.  If the garbage is unsorted, who gets fined — the tenants or the landlords?  Neither one could be proven responsible for the misdemeanor in court.  If landlords risk fines and suspension of service because of tenant behavior they cannot possibly control, or even trace, then expect property values to take a dive while people sell of their assets in real estate.

Philosophically speaking, this represents a gross intrusion (in more than one sense of the word) of government into private life.  Recycling plans work because they’re voluntary; most people don’t mind a simple sorting process involving one bin for refuse and another for recyclables.  If they are required to start using three, four, or five bins for sorting their trash upon threat of prosecution, the good will compliance will end and people will stop recycling altogether.  And wait until the municipal courts get flooded with the accused looking to clear their good names and avoid the $1,000 fine.  Plus, can the garbage collectors even levy those citations without being sworn officers of the law or at least employed by law enforcement?

It’s yet another nutty idea from America’s leading source of them.  I’d give it even odds of passage.  (via The Corner)

Update: This reminded me of the excellent Penn & Teller Bulls**t! show in which they debunked recycling as beneficial for all but aluminum cans.  Here is the most applicable part of that episode to today’s story (not safe for work):

If you haven’t watched the show before, you owe it to yourself to give it a try.