Should L.A. Residents Be Fined For Not Composting?

Photo by mjmonty

If you're an enemy of the so-called "nanny state," wherein the government stands in the way of an individual's rights to do whatever-the-hell-they-want, because said whatever-the-hell-they-want is terribly bad for them, then you must hate New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. There's a reason his mug greets you at Wikipedia page for the term, after all.

During his reign over the East Coast metropolis, he's tried (and failed) to institute a large soda ban in the city, and he's made it so that a pack of cigarettes costs about $13 and nearly impossible to find a place to smoke. And now, to complete his vision of a green/healthy New York, he's proposed a law that will force people to compost in their homes.

The plan works as follows: For the next short bit of time, residences and schools will be gently nudged in the direction of taking out food scraps from their garbage piles and placing them into separate bins that will go to a city-run composting plant. (Just imagine an extra can next to the garbage and recycling, but one filled just with old food.) This aspect of the proposal no one has a problem with. Offering the ability to compost discarded food is certainly a positive thing. But where the whole thing gets dicey, and where New Yorkers are started to get worried, is the administration's admission that, within a few years, everyone in the city will be forced to compost. And if they don't, they'll be fined.

While the Bloomberg administration has taken the "everyone calm down and let's just see if this works" approach to getting people on board with the idea -- there's no set level of fines, or even a plan yet in place to determine how the fines are dolled out -- restaurant managers are already worried about the prospect:

[M]any... even some who are committed to recycling, say that finding ways to fit more bins, more staff time and more expense into their daily routines will be a struggle.

Also, as Rachel Figueroa-Levin pointed out at AM New York, there's a certain unavoidable side effect that comes with forcing everyone to hold onto their discarded, rotting food scraps:

Here's the thing about composted food scraps: They smell. Bad. Really bad. Unless the system to collect and regulate compost is amazing, the whole city is going to smell like the Fresh Kills landfill circa 1992. Little boxes filled with food waste in every home. A (free-range, organic) chicken in every pot! A rotting box of old food in every kitchen!

Currently, L.A. doesn't have any known plans for such a program. While soon-to-be-mayor Eric Garcetti is a big fan of composting -- his introduction of legislation to create a "composting program to divert organic supermarket and restaurant waste from landfills" is on his list of "green" bona fides at his website -- it takes a certain level of earned goodwill and inherent political chutzpah that Garcetti does not (yet) have to start fining citizens for not composting in their homes.

But if this initiative begins showing positive outcomes, and if New Yorkers stop grumbling about the move, and if environmentalists provide hard, cold data showing the great effects the move is having, well, who's not to say L.A. will follow suit. How, then, would you feel about it?


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About the Author

Rick Paulas has written plenty of things, some of them serious, many of them not, scattered over the vast expanses of the Internet. He lives in Los Angeles and is a White Sox fan.
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