Fox News' Senior Judicial Analyst Falsely Claims Compost Ordinance “Unconstitutional”


Fox News' senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano incorrectly called a Seattle ordinance fining residents for throwing away compostable trash “unconstitutional” -- the United States Supreme Court found in 1988 that garbage placed on the curbside was not protected by the Fourth Amendment.

In September, Seattle's City Council passed an ordinance that would fine residents one dollar if trash collectors observe that more than 10 percent of trash is made up of compostable items:

Under the new rules, collectors can take a cursory look each time they dump trash into a garbage truck. If they see compostable items make up 10 percent or more of the trash, they'll enter the violation into a computer system their trucks already carry, and will leave a ticket on the garbage bin that says to expect a $1 fine on the next garbage bill.

Apartment buildings and businesses will be subject to the same 10 percent threshold but will get two warnings before they are fined. A third violation will result in a $50 fine. Dumpsters there will be checked by inspectors on a random basis.

Collectors will begin tagging garbage bins and Dumpsters with educational tickets starting Jan. 1 when they find violations. But fines won't start until July 1.

On the September 29 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto,  Andrew Napolitano called Seattle's new ordinance fining residents “unconstitutional,” asserting that the searching of garbage is “absolutely prohibited by the Fourth Amendment”:

But curbside garbage is not protected by the Fourth Amendment. In California v. Greenwood, the United States Supreme Court ruled that “respondents placed their refuse at the curb for the express purpose of conveying it to a third party, the trash collector, who might himself have sorted through it or permitted others, such as the police, to do so.” 

And contrary to host Neil Cavuto's claim that Seattle's ordinance is just “a way to make money,” the purpose of the ordinance “isn't to raise revenue,” explained Tim Croll, the solid-waste director of the Seattle Public Utilities, but to raise awareness: “We care more about reminding people to separate their materials.”

According to the Washington Post, food waste is “one of the most egregious” environmental problems “especially in the United States.” The Post reported that “organic waste is the second largest contributor to the country's landfills” and added that decomposing food releases methane “which is said to be at least 20 times more lethal a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide”:

Those same landfills are the single largest producer of methane emissions in the United States--they produce almost a quarter of the country's total methane emissions, according to the NRDC.

The environmental cost of food waste goes further than just methane emissions. Producing food is a costly affair for the environment--an estimated one third of global carbon emissions come from agriculture--but it's one society pays to feed itself.