We’ve probably had a “shaming” society pretty much as long as the country has been here. Seriously… if you were in Massachusetts in the 1600s and wore the wrong clothes they could lock you in the stocks overnight. But shaming has gone digital in the era of social media which makes it much faster and easier to pass judgment on people you’ve never even met and sometimes it can come back to haunt you. Fat shaming, for example, can get you in trouble, as one comedian recently found out. But not all the shaming is happening online. In Seattle, Washington, the local government is going all old school on the residents and sending out real live people to poke through your trash and call you out if you’re not recycling carefully enough. (Fox News)
When it comes to garbage, the city of Seattle has launched a waste war.
Nine full-time solid waste inspectors have been hired as part of a controversial program to check city trash to make sure people are recycling. Additionally, contracted waste haulers have been effectively deputized as trash police, given the authority to tag bins when people fail to recycle and compost enough.
The program is now the subject of a lawsuit, as residents fume over what some call an intrusive government program.
“I understand people have noble goals,” said Keli Carender, who got tagged two weeks in a row, an offense that soon could bring a fine. “But at some point we have to say, you can’t violate my rights to achieve this noble goal.”
This would normally be a story that’s prime for mocking, but once you get past the rather nanny-state sounding headline there are a couple of valid points. First, the angry residents are making a privacy claim, but that seems to be muddled at best. I know that in other states (like mine) the courts have ruled that anything you put out on trash day is fair game for law enforcement or pretty much anyone else. As the article notes, that’s a case which has gone to the Supreme Court. But the Washington State Supreme Court “went in the other direction” and said that the trash is protected. (Wait… they can do that?) Either way, claiming a violation of their 4th amendment rights seems to be a bit of a stretch to prevent having your trash inspected for recycling content.
Further, trash handling laws tend to be a local issue, or at most a state level debate. Residents have a lot more direct feedback and control of such things. If you don’t like the recycling laws where you live you should probably get them changed. In this case, they have mandated that some minimum percentage needs to be recycled or composted (because… Seattle) and if it’s the law it’s the law, no matter how much of a pain in the butt it may be.
Still, putting tags on people’s trash and highlighting their names in the local police report seems a bit much for a trash infraction, doesn’t it? Couldn’t this be settled with a ticket sent in the mail? I mean, we’re talking about a fine ranging from one dollar to fifty here. And while we’re on the subject of money, they hired nine full time government workers to look for recycling violators? How many fines do you have to collect to make up for all those salaries? Your tax dollars at work!