A new littering law that took effect on Sept. 1 will bring harsher penalties for those caught discarding trash improperly.
The Alabama State Legislature passed HB500, an anti-litter bill, that has upgraded littering, especially litter thrown from cars, from a Class C to a Class B misdemeanor, pushing possible jail time up to six months and fines up to $3,000, plus court costs.
The first conviction under the guidelines of the new law raises the fine for a first offense up to $500 from $250. The punishment for the conviction of a second and any subsequent offenses includes either a fine of up to $1,000 and up to 100 hours of community service in the form of picking up litter along highways, roads, streets, public right-of-ways, public sidewalks, public walkways, or public waterways, or by a fine of not less than $2,000 and not more than $3,000.
In addition to the increased fines, community service, and jail time under the new law, littering of cigarettes or cigars, containers of urine or food containers will add another $500 per violation.
“The increased fines will deter some of the litter issues,” Eufaula Police Chief Steve Watkins said regarding the littering law. “Garbage dumped where traceable information is obtainable is prima facie evidence that the person whose name is on the item is responsible for the littering. Littering from a motor vehicle, while the fine has increased, still requires an officer to observe the infraction before a citation can be issued. There are additional penalties for allowing cigarettes, cigars, bio hazards or food containers to be released from a motor vehicle.
“We do have several isolated problem areas in the City and conduct surveillance on these areas randomly. We do not want anyone to become an example of the new law, but we have a zero tolerance for several crimes in Eufaula, and littering is among those. What we want people to understand is that not only is litter potentially harmful to the environment, it has an effect on other aspects of our City such as new business opportunities, housing costs, sewer maintenance and safety.”
The act of criminal littering is defined by the new law as anyone who “knowingly deposits in any manner litter on any public or private property or in any public or private waters without permission to do so; negligently deposits, in any manner glass or other dangerously pointed or edged objects on or adjacent to water to which the public has lawful access for bathing, swimming, or fishing or on a public highway or within the right-of-way.”
The new law also addresses release of sewage, oil products, or litter into rivers, inland lakes or streams within the state or its territorial waters.
To clarify what the term litter includes, the text of the bill defines it as “rubbish, refuse, waste material, garbage, dead animals or fowl, entrails and internal organs of an animal, paper, glass, cans, bottles, trash, scrap metal, debris, plastic, cigarettes, cigars, containers of urine, food containers, rubber tires, or any foreign substance.”
An agricultural product in its natural state that is unintentionally deposited or strewn on roadways does not count as litter. For example, if someone is hauling hay and some blows off the trailer during transport, this does not constitute littering.
If someone operates a vehicle knowingly that is spilling gravel, rock, slag, bricks, or materials, onto a highway, road, street, or public right-of-way that does fall under the criminal littering statute.
According to the Barbour County Engineer Matt Murphy, the county spends an average of $24,000 per year using inmate labor to clean up litter, tires and illegal dumping along the roadways and on the right-of-ways in Barbour County. “This is a huge problem in the county, especially on the roads leading to the chicken plant in Bakerhill,” Murphy said. “I really hope they can catch some of these people. It’s not cheap to clean up and it takes the county road department away from other duties.”
Fines collected under the new littering law will be split 50-50 by the court between the state’s General Fund and the municipality or county depending on which law enforcement agency or department participated in the arrest or citation resulting in the fine. Proceeds that go to municipalities or counties are restricted to use on law and littering enforcement purposes only which includes anti-littering education, publication and distributions of related educational materials and anti-littering advertising.