“Quit snooping into trash, city of Seattle told in privacy lawsuit”

Seattle Times:

A group of privacy advocates is suing the city of Seattle, arguing that having garbage collectors look through people’s trash — to make sure food scraps aren’t going into the garbage — “violates privacy rights on a massive scale.”

“A person has a legitimate expectation that the contents of his or her garbage cans will remain private and free from government inspection,” argues the lawsuit filed [last] Thursday in King County Superior Court by the Pacific Legal Foundation.

More: Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Earlier on the city’s ban on food waste in trash, and severe limits on other types of material, here.


  • Especially problematic is that Seattle contracts with two private companies for trash pick-up – CleanScapes and Waste Management. This idea is more trouble than it would ever be worth.

  • Some places in Germany tried this a while back – it was forbidden to put food scraps in the regular trash. Most trash disposal areas in Germany have several barrels – paper, glass, plastic, etc., all to be recycled, as well as one for “other” – to go to the landfill, or wherever. Non-recycled garbage was weighed, and the household charged accordingly. The result? An explosion of the rat population in the sewers, as thrifty Germans flushed food scraps down the toilet rather than pay to put them in the garbage.

  • Yet another reason I will never live inside the city limits of any so called liberal city.

    Also, the great City of Seattle has elements of its council that are trying to get the State ban on rent control overturned, so they can, of course, implement this brilliant idea, and further screw up the housing market in Seattle.

    Oh, and this same geniuses are also, apparently, starting to see the natural reaction to the $15 / hour crap. Allegedly, some of these low income workers that are ‘benefiting’ from their new found higher wage are cutting hours so as to not lose welfare benefits. Yeah…more “unintended” effects

  • How exactly does one retain privacy rights (or even a “legitimate expectation” of privacy) over anything one throws away? Is ther an legal theory governing such rights? Is the legal theory generally accepted or controversial?

    Do such rights extend beyond ones own property, e.g., to the city dump?

    And for how long do they last?

    • “Is there an legal theory governing such rights?”

      Yes, unfortunately for the plaintiffs, the existing law is against them. You have no privacy rights in your trash after it has been put out for collection and the police can come by ahead of the trash man and go through your trash without a warrant.

  • Dirty Harry taught me that I do indeed have privacy rights to my garbage up until the time it is mixed in with everyone else’s garbage, per my reasonable expectations. Till then, it’s mine and mine alone. Dirty Harry wouldn’t lie.

  • I believe that under Federal law there is no expectation of privacy for curbside trash, in the context of the Fourth Amendment. Under Washington State law I believe there is a heightened privacy right in that same context. In other words, the government can (in Washington State) perform a warrant-less search of your trash only when it is co-mingled at the dump, after any reasonable expectation of privacy is gone.

    I might not be totally accurate, but I believe that’s the gist. Also because state law allows for more privacy it goes beyond Federal law, etc.

  • No biggie…just put your food stuffs in your neighbor’s garbage after they put it out….or someone’s down they way. Nah, that could never happen :-/