Humanity has developed a mindset where it’s okay to litter. Perhaps it still isn’t, but that won’t stop us from giving into our guilt and leaving our empty cups, bottles, and chip bags in public places if we know that no one is looking or justify that someone else is being paid to clean up after our mess. Or, we argue that our bag is designer and you don’t want to hold onto trash before finding a trash can, or it makes us look poor to be holding an empty bottle so we just leave it in the nearest place – the ground or the canal or literally anywhere we can shake off accountability and hand the waste disposal problem off to someone else.
It’s this sort of mindset that increases our pollution and waste disposal problem. Littering is so common nowadays that nearly three-fourths of people in the last five years have admitted to littering in public at least once in their life. In fact, littering has become so bad that, to prevent the problem, local governments have to put several trashcans on a street just to prevent littering because studies found that a person will only walk 12 steps with their trash before deciding it’s okay to just drop it and walk away.
What’s even worse to think about is that the action of littering technically is illegal in many places in the Untied States. State and local government units impose anti-littering laws and policies, placing fines on people found littering in public. However, you don’t see a lot of reports on the news about people getting fined for littering or even arrests for repeat offenders. Given the state of our pollution, though, isn’t it time the government strictly enforces these laws?
States with Littering Penalties
Enforcing the anti-littering penalties benefits local governments as much as it does the people. States are spending millions of dollars every year to clean up roads, public areas, and coasts. Aside from the fact that it’s an eyesore and a breeding ground for flies, rats, roaches, and other pests that can cause health problems, littered areas affect the environment, the property value, and other factors which could affect public and private property.
It’s why states implement littering laws and penalties. Some states impose a fine and litter cleanup, while others implement fines depending on how much trash a person littered. All punishments increase for repeat offenders, with some states such as Maryland, Massachusetts, and Louisiana suspending driver’s licenses. Currently, the states with littering fines include:
These laws are created to act the same way as laws that deter people from theft, breaking and entering, and other crimes. You do something bad, and the law punishes you for it. Crime and punishment. Despite states imposing littering laws, however, it’s not stopped people from doing so. People aren’t scared to litter. Those that choose not to litter do it because it’s the right thing to do, and not because they’re afraid of the consequences. Which why less people choose not to litter, since most of the time, there’s no accountability or punishment for a law that remains not totally enforced.
Where Does Our Trash Go?
Many just assume that if they leave trash anywhere in a public place, it is someone’s job to eventually pick up their trash and clean up the place. The thing is though, where your trash goes is much more complex than that.
When you fail to throw your trash properly, chances are, it’s either picked up and thrown away by someone cleaning the area – which then either ends up in a landfill or recycling center, depending on the type of garbage segregation used in the area – or they’re more likely to end up elsewhere. Plastic bags and wrappers are more likely to fly away than wait for a street cleaner or park employee to clean up the mess, while empty plastic bottles find themselves in gutters ready for the next rain or flood to carry them into the sewer.
And whether it flies through the air or ends up in an underground tunnel, the trash you neglected and left out in public eventually makes its way to become a part of the 1.4 billion pounds of trash that ends up in the ocean annually.
If everyone thought their trash was just a small contribution to an already even bigger problem, imagine that millions of people are saying that every day about their own trash.
Will Imposing Stricter Littering Laws Help?
To a certain extent, yes it can. But there’s only so much laws can do until people start changing their mindset about their trash and the environment. In 2014, Illinois imposed stricter anti-littering laws, yet that only produced fewer ticket citations and didn’t really help with the amount of pollution seen on the state.
Unless every area had a police officer with eyes on everyone, stricter laws are ineffective. The police can’t ticket someone unless they personally saw them throw cigarette butts or other trash on the ground. In fact, two counties in the state failed to report citations in the first three months.
While stricter laws serve as a deterrent, it’s not a sure-fire way to end littering. Despite the government’s ways of promoting proper garbage disposal, litter is still a major problem in storm water trash, contributing more to the annual repairs local governments have to handle.
Changing Our Mindset on the Environment
There’s still no certain way to end littering forever, and while strictly implementing littering laws won’t totally solve the problem, enforcing people to practice proper waste disposal can surely help. Our waste problem has become so huge that it has become one of the biggest factors against our survival in this world. Too much garbage can have negative effects on the environment, so we need to stop looking at our empty plastic bottles as just one more miniscule addition that won’t affect an already larger problem.
Millions of people think this way which, in turn, leads to millions of plastic bottles ending up in the oceans. If more police ticketed people even for the slightest piece of garbage, more people can be deterred against leaving their trash anywhere and practicing better waste disposal that’s beneficial to everyone involved.