Enforcing Litter Laws
Whether it's littering or illegal dumping, any improper disposal of trash is against the law in Pennsylvania. Violators can be and are prosecuted by a number of state agencies under laws enacted by the Pennsylvania General Assembly over the years.
A Fact Sheet for Local Law Enforcement Officials
A few pieces of litter along the side of the road may not seem like a crime, but it is. Littered roadways, properties and illegal dumpsites cost Pennsylvania millions of dollars each year in cleanup costs. Aside from the costs associated with cleanup, littering and illegal dumping becomes a blight upon the local community, inhibiting economic development and potentially attracting more crime. This page provides information about the tools law enforcement can use to combat this problem.
Litter comes in all shapes and sizes — from a cigarette butt to a tire. it can be found on roadsides, sidewalks, in parks or on private property.
Intentional littering is a behavioral choice based on apathy, lack of social pressure to do the right thing, ignorance of the law and an absence of realistic penalties or consistent enforcement, or it is a social rebellion and a disregard of authority. People who litter represent a variety of social economic backgrounds.
Unintentional littering can result from unsecured vehicle loads and overflowing trash containers and dumpsters.
Illegal dumps are found in isolated locations in both rural and urban areas. Like litterers, illegal dumpers come from all walks of life. Often these individuals are looking to avoid paying trash disposal costs or are unaware of how to properly dispose of items. Most dumpsites contain the following: tires, household trash, appliances, bulky items, vehicle parts, construction/remodeling debris, brush and other woody materials.
PennDOT spends upward of $13 million cleaning up roadside litter every year. It costs approximately $600 per ton to clean up an illegal dumpsite and it is estimated that there are thousands of illegal dumpsites in Pennsylvania.
Littered burning cigarette butts can fly into the open window of another car and cause fires. Litter can cause accidents when vehicles trying to avoid roadway litter make unsafe maneuvers.
Urine-filled bottles thrown from trucks pose a serious health and safety hazard. What looks like litter is sometimes deadly, as illegal methamphetamine lab paraphernalia is increasingly being found along roadsides in rural Pennsylvanian communities. When not handled properly, these materials pose a serious health threat to roadside cleanup crews and pedestrians.
The Pennsylvania Vehicle Code and Anti-Littering
Whether it's littering or illegal dumping, any improper disposal of trash is against the law. Violators can be prosecuted by a number of state agencies under laws enacted by the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
The Pennsylvania Vehicle Code (Title 75, Chapter 37 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes § 3709) addresses depositing waste and other material on highway, property or waters, as follows:
(a) General rule. No person shall throw or deposit, upon any highway or upon any other public or private property without the consent of the owner thereof or into or on the waters of this Commonwealth, from a vehicle, any waste paper, sweepings, ashes, household waste, glass, metal, refuse or rubbish, or any dangerous or detrimental substance.
(b) Removal of deposited material.
- (1) Any person who drops, or permits to be dropped or thrown, upon any highway or upon any other public or private property without the consent of the owner thereof or into or on any waters of this Commonwealth, from a vehicle, any waste paper, sweepings, ashes, household waste, glass, metal, refuse or rubbish, or any dangerous or detrimental substance shall immediately remove the same or cause it to be removed.
- (2) For the purposes of this subsection a "person who permits to be dropped or thrown" from a vehicle any of the items described in paragraph (1) shall include the driver of the vehicle and the registrant of any vehicle registered in this Commonwealth from which any of the items are dropped or thrown, either by the registrant or any person operating, in possession of or present within the vehicle with the permission of the registrant, regardless of the registrant's intent or lack of knowledge with respect to the disposal of such items in violation of this section where the registrant of the vehicle does not, with reasonable certainty, identify the driver of the vehicle at the time the violation occurred.
(c) Removal of material following accident. Any person removing a wrecked, damaged or disabled vehicle from a highway shall remove from the highway or neutralize any glass, oil or other injurious substance resulting from the accident or disablement.
(d) Penalty. Any person violating any of the provisions of subsection (a) or (b) commits a summary offense and shall, upon conviction, be sentenced to either or both of the following:
- (1) To pay a fine of not more than:
- (i) $900 for a violation which occurs in an easement purchased under the program established by section 14.1 of the act of June 30, 1981 (P.L. 128, No. 43), > [FN1] known as the Agricultural Area Security Law;
- (ii) $600 for a violation which occurs in an agricultural security area as defined in section 3 > [FN2] of the Agricultural Area Security Law; or
- (iii) $300 for a violation which occurs anywhere else.
- (2) Except where infirmity or age or other circumstance would create a hardship, be directed by the court in which conviction is obtained to pick up and remove litter from public property or private property, or both, with prior permission of the legal owner. If the person has no prior record of convictions for violation of this section, he may be sentenced to pick up and remove litter for not less than eight hours nor more than 16 hours. Upon a second conviction, the person may be sentenced to pick up and remove litter for not less than 16 hours and not more than 32 hours. Upon third and subsequent convictions, he may be sentenced to pick up and remove litter for not less than 40 hours and not more than 80 hours. The court shall schedule the time to be spent on such activities in such a manner that it does not interfere with the person's employment and does not interfere substantially with the person's family responsibilities or religious obligations.
(e) Disposition of fines, etc. Revenue from the collection of fines and bail forfeitures in the course of enforcement of this section shall be distributed in the following manner:
- (1) One-half shall be distributed to the agency or local government unit which brought the action to enforce this section and may be used to defray the expenses of enforcing this section, at the option of the agency or local government unit.
- (2) One-half shall be allocated to the department for Statewide public education and awareness programs to promote litter control and recycling and awareness of the provisions of this section.
County and municipal governments create and enact additional ordinances at the local level.
The Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors website contains a model ordinance for nuisance conditions and accumulation of trash on property.
The Pennsylvania Resources Council website contains a Sample Litter Ordinance, and a wealth of other anti-litter resources.