States spend millions of dollars each year to clean up littered roadways, parks, and coastal areas. In addition to the direct cost of litter removal, litter also harms the environment, property values and other economic activity. The most common types of litter are food packaging, bottles, cans, plastic bags, paper and tobacco products. States can discourage littering through a variety of methods, one of which is to create and enforce criminal penalties that punish unwanted behavior. While all states have some type of litter law, penalties vary widely, based on the amount, type, and location of litter. In 10 states, for example, the weight or volume of litter determines the severity of the crime. Other states focus on the type of litter, imposing penalties for dumping large items, such as furniture or major appliances. Many states have also enacted legislation to address littering in certain places, such as public highways, coastal areas, and recreational areas.
For relatively minor cases, courts typically impose a fine and may order litter cleanup or community service. Fines range from $20 in Colorado to $30,000 in Maryland. In more serious cases, offenders may be subject to imprisonment, with sentences ranging from 10 days in Idaho to six years in Tennessee. Laws in Maryland, Massachusetts, and Louisiana also provide for suspension of a violators’ driver’s license in certain cases. Penalties in all states typically increase for subsequent convictions.
The table below summarizes state penalties for littering. Please refer to the specific state statutes for definitions of littering and other information.