Springlike temperatures have taken a big bite out of McHenry County’s snow cover.
As snow melts away, unfortunately, a winter’s worth of litter is revealed.
Trash tossed out of cars is visible along the streets.
Cups and wrappers dropped by pedestrians lie along sidewalks.
Couch cushions and tires that fell out of – or were tossed from – pickups can be seen along roadsides.
Most people know that littering is wrong. Most people might not know littering has been against state law only since the 1970s.
The Illinois Litter Control Act became law Jan. 1, 1974.
The act described the state’s littering problem, set forth prohibitions and penalties, and called for strict enforcement.
Why was Illinois afflicted by littering in the 1970s?
Because of “rapid population growth, the ever increasing mobility of the population[,] and improper and abusive discard habits” of the public.
What’s wrong with littering, anyway?
It’s “detrimental to the welfare of the people of this state.”
And further, “[W]hile there has been a collective failure by government, industry and the public to develop and accomplish effective litter control, there is a need to educate the public with respect to the problem of litter and to provide for strict enforcement of litter control measures.”
Looking at our roadsides, it seems as if things haven’t changed all that much.
The act went on to define litter as “any discarded, used or unconsumed substance or waste.”
That takes in a wide range of stuff, including, according to the act, garbage, trash, refuse, cigarettes, debris, rubbish, grass clippings or other lawn or garden waste, newspapers, magazines, glass, metal, plastic or paper containers or other packaging, construction material, abandoned vehicles, motor vehicle parts, furniture and oil.
Wait, we’re not done yet. Also, animal carcasses, any nauseous or offensive matter of any kind, any object likely to injure anyone or create traffic hazards, potentially infectious medical waste, “or anything else of an unsightly or unsanitary nature.”
Basically, anything that’s been discarded, abandoned or disposed of improperly fills the bill.
As of Jan. 1, 2014, cigarette butts were added to the official list of banned litter.
The act prohibits littering on public and private property, whether it’s land or water. It mandates trash receptacles be placed on property, public and private, that is open to the public.
A first-time littering offense is a Class B misdemeanor. Get caught littering a second time, and it’s a Class A misdemeanor. Litter three or more times, and you’ve committed a Class 4 felony.
What about enforcement?
“This act shall be enforced by all law enforcement officers in their respective jurisdictions, whether employed by the state or by any unit of local government. Prosecutions for violation of this act shall be conducted by the state attorneys of the several counties and by the Attorney General of this state.”
The law is clear: No littering allowed.
The law is also clear: Anti-littering provisions are to be strictly enforced.
Of course, the problem hasn’t gone away because some people don’t care enough to reform their littering ways, and police officers can’t be everywhere.
To those for whom littering is a bad habit, we encourage them to break it and adopt better habits. Keep a trash bag in the car and put litter in it for disposal at home. Don’t discard litter while you’re out walking. And if something falls off your truck, turn around and pick it up.
As spring approaches and the last snow disappears, make it a habit to stop carelessly discarding cups, cans, wrappers, bags and so forth. Then, perhaps, we can all enjoy watching the litter problem melt away.