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7 Surprising Garbage And Recycling Laws

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From being required to wear a “Litter Lout” t-shirt to getting jailed for bad waste behavior, there are some weird laws about trash and recycling.   


I’m a sucker for those roundups about weird and arcane laws that make their way around the Internet every so often. For instance: Did you know that in California, it’s illegal to bathe two babies at the same time in the same tub? (Sorry, moms of twins!)


And while they might not be quite as crazy as the Kentucky law that forbids women from appearing in a bathing suit on the side of a highway, there’s a fair share of pretty unusual laws — or surprisingly stringent punishments — governing trash, recycling, and other waste issues. If you’re ever in these places, beware of these regulations… you could end up with a hefty fine, or worse!


1. In Illinois, you can’t drop your butts on the ground. Indeed, littering with cigarette butts could cost you a fine of up to $1500. Commit the offence three times and you’re looking at a felony charge that includes a $25,000 fine and jail time. But it is a law that makes sense: 38 percent of U.S. roadway litter is from tobacco products. Whether or not the law is actually being enforced, however, is another thing.


2. You have to pay for grocery bags in Santa Fe. According to the Reusable Bag Ordinance, which just went into effect last year, retailers are required to charge $0.10 for every paper shopping bag that a customer needs. The ordinance was implemented in an attempt to get residents to use reusable shopping bags, and to minimize the litter and waste caused by plastic shopping bags. In fact, plastic bags aren’t offered at all in the city’s stores.


3. If you litter in Singapore, you’ll have to serve a punishment wearing a special shirt. Littering is a serious crime in Singapore. According to a law that’s been in effect since 1968, not only will violators have to pay a $1,000 fine and do community service to clean up the streets, but repeat offenders will also have to wear a shirt that says, “I am a litter lout.”


4. In Switzerland, you can’t drop off your recycling on Sundays. Switzerland’s into recycling (indeed, they recycle more garbage per person of any European Union country except Germany), but not on the day of rest. Zurich police gave one offender a choice of 2 nights in jail or a $280 fine.


5. In Hilton Head, SC, it’s illegal to be a sloppy driver. Driving around this resort community with a car full of trash could earn you a month in jail or $500 in fines.


6. Dumpster diving is not always legal. If you’re a freegan (that is, someone who believes in minimizing consumption of resources by, in part, finding still usable food and other goods that have been thrown in the trash), you probably know whether going through dumpsters is legal in your area. Generally, the law says that it’s fair game if it’s not on private property — where you would be trespassing — and if the dumpster is unlocked.


7. You’re required to use special trash bags in Decatur, GA. In this Atlanta ‘burb, all trash must be bagged in special bags that can be purchased from the city or local retailers. The bags cost from $0.41 to $1.45 apiece. It’s part of the city’s pay-as-you-throw program and is designed to encourage residents to reduce their household waste.



Are there any unusual trash or recycling laws in your city or state? Share them in the comments below — we just might use them in an upcoming column!

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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan
I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same. more
  • Twyila S. 5 months ago
    It’s also illegal in Mississippi to throw cigarette butts out of your car Windows!! One “Butt” is $95.00 Fine!! Which it is “tacky” looking to see cigarette butts all in the parking lots of Churches, Funeral Homes, Hospitals…….. We Should ALL be Respectful of other peoples properties!!
  • Lois S. 7 months ago
    Had never heard the word freegan.... interesting!
  • Deborah W. 5 years ago
    We need recycling laws in NY State; such as littering of cigarette butts, not giving plastic bags in stores, we do use recycling bins but it seems many apartment buildings don't use them which is a horrible thing, they should pass a law for returning liquor bottles to receive at least 5 cents back.
  • kathy d. 6 years ago
    #7, many cities and towns in Massachusetts have had special bags for many years. The purchase price help defray the cost of pick-up and disposal
  • Elizabeth D. 6 years ago
    those are interesting laws.
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