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Judge throws some of Seattle’s new composting rules in the trash

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SEATTLE --  Managing the waste flow and separating between garbage and composting just got a little bit messier for the city of Seattle.

On Wednesday, King County Superior Court Judge Beth Andrus held that parts of Seattle's food waste violate the state Constitution's protections for privacy. That means no more snooping in residents' trash to see if they're complying with the mandatory composting ordinance.

"Garbage cans are private affairs, there's private stuff in there," says attorney Ethan Blevins. He's with the Pacific Legal Foundation and represented eight families who sued because they're not  OK with their trash being searched.

Blevins says the Evergreen State is unique when it comes to personal trash. He says that's because the Washington goes even further than the U.S. Constitution when it comes to illegal search and seizure. "We're one of the few states that protects from searches of garbage cans."

It was January 2015 when Seattle Public Utilities said residents could face fines if they had put more than 10% of compostable waste in their trash. And while the suggested fines were only a dollar-- the attorney for the families says that's not the point.

"There's no way that can be enforced without some sort of active inspection," says Blevin. "[The] ruling is a victory for common sense and constitutional rights."

The Pacific Legal Foundation, based in Bellevue, describes itself as a public interest watchdog organization that litigates nationwide for limited government, property rights and individual rights.

Seattle Public Utilities have said all along they were never looking at what was actually in the trash -- just making sure compostables were in the right bin.

In a statement released Thursday,  it said it “will continue to focus on education and to build on the excellent progress to date. Our customers are doing a great job of keeping compostables out of the garbage and should continue to recycle and compost as much as possible. We are pleased that the court’s ruling recognizes the City's ability to regulate what goes into trash cans to address conservation and safety needs. ‘Plain view’ monitoring for dangerous items is vital to protecting worker and public safety. This was the most important issue at stake in this case."

An appeal seems seems unlikely from the city of Seattle, as their Thursday news release says the agency "will study the ruling and determine what changes we need to make in the program and the City ordinance."