Is it littering if...

… you see a piece of trash on the ground, pick it up to examine it, and then place it back on the ground?

If a policeman saw you put the trash on the ground and issued a citation for littering, would an affirmative defense be that it was not your trash and that you were simply putting it back where you found it?

OK, so it’s not exactly a “great” debate, but I’m still wondering what other people think.

[My opinion, by the way, is that it’s NOT littering, although I would certainly dispose of the trash properly if there were a waste receptacle handy.]



Errr… I don’t think you’re going to have an easy time proving it wasn’t yours, if that’s the question. NBot many jries are going to buy that line.

Although I don’t believe there is a Correct answer to this question, I would argue (and the police officer would likely concur) that:

as soon as you ‘pick it up to look at it’ you take possesion of it. Therefore it IS yours, and you are then responsible for it.

Of course, if it turned out to be a diamond ring wrapped in a hamburger wrapper, it wouldn’t (legally) be yours, would it? … hmm …

Actually, I think it’s a great debate in terms of it relating to property rights, ownership and possession.

I think it’s a matter of taking possession (and perhaps but not necessarily ownership). When you pick it up, you are taking possession of it and now have the responsibility to respond appropriately. If it’s trash, that would mean throwing it away. If it’s a diamond ring, that would mean seeking to find the rightful owner. It it’s a newspaper, that could mean sitting down, reading it, and then putting it in the recycle bin…

So while the response to whatever you’ve picked up may not be the same, I believe it all stems from the same principle which is making an appropriate decision regarding something you have taken into your possession.

(Note that taking into possession and “owning” are different – you don’t “own” a rental car, but it’s in your possession, etc.)

Just what constitutes “litter,” anyway? The comments about a diamond ring make me wonder who determines whether an object placed on the ground is truly litter or not. Obviously, if I dropped a $10,000 diamond ring on the ground, it wouldn’t be considered litter (at least, I don’t think so). But what about, say, a $20 bill? Or a quarter? Or today’s paper? Or a perfectly good paperback book?

One man’s trash is, as they say, another man’s treasure…


Interesting little question.

Why would this be different from the guy who looked at the litter and just left it there? How about if the next trash can is 2 miles away? Are you supposed to have to carry someone else’s trash for 2 miles? How about 1/2 mile? How about 3 blocks?

I’m not sure what the law is, but it sure as hell shouldn’t allow this to be called littering. No, the original guy who tossed the trash is the litterer.

Another query; how far away from the litter do you have to be before it’s litter?

ie. The policeperson gives me a citation for littering, and I say to the cop, “I was going to pick it up later.”

If you threw someone else’s property around, I would say that’s littering even though you had possession of the litter but don’t own the litter.

What if you pick up a fallen leaf in a park, then drop it?

What if you raked your lawn and took the leaves to the park and dropped them at the park?

What if you kicked the piece of litter from one place to another? Is that different from picking it up and dropping it again? Man, you can take this thought in a milliion directions…

Here’s one for you…

You could, in theory, drop that aforementioned diamond ring on the ground. A police officer could witness it, pick it up, take it into evidence (or even home to his wife) AND write you a ticket for littering. So that act of throwing away your diamond ring, could cost you an extra $25.

Actually, if we look to the CA Penal Code cited as an example, littering involves the material being “waste” so the diamond ring ticket for $25 would be a REAL stretcher…

How about for direction number 27 for this question:

If we accept the definition of waste given above (discarded, used or leftover substance…), can I get the a**hole who sneezed (thrice!) on my neck on the train tonight hit with a littering ticket for littering his snot on me?

i like this debate. it is strange, but intriguing.

the thing I immediately thought of when seeing the CA Penal code is, if you burn an American flag in protest (flaming material) is that littering? I would never litter (I deposit all cigarette butts in proper receptacles), but think it’d be weird to get a littering ticket for depositing a burning flag on the ground.

with cigarettes, for example, I usually deposit the burning tobacco on the ground and place the filter in a trash can. that is a burning material too. I couldn’t imagine getting a ticket for that.

** Colinito67** If it was illegial to burn the US flag how would the law read? If the flag had 49 stars would that make it an American flag? Likewise if the sign says “Put Litter in its Place” where else would you put litter but on the ground? Maybe that is why there is this thing we call the spirit of the law.

What about food scraps? If you toss a bread crust, would you get away with saying “I was just feeding the birds/squirrels/whatever”?

Hey – we aim to please!


It’s like chess pieces and doughnuts: you touch it, it’s yours.

On a semi-related note, can you imagine how much money could be generated if police actually enforced the no littering laws with regard to cigarette butts?

[I think I’ll propose this to Mitt Romney. It makes more sense than his plan to extort money from neighboring states in exchange for a promise to not allow casinos and slot machines in Massachusetts…]