Virginia lawmaker calls for steeper fines to combat pandemic littering

If you have noticed more litter along the roads during the pandemic, a Virginia lawmaker wants you to know that he has seen it too — and he is pushing for a bill that would increase the penalties for people who throw their garbage on the ground.

“Restaurants are closed and people are eating more in their cars,” said Republican Del. James Edmunds, who added that he thinks too many people are simply throwing their trash out of their cars when they are done eating.

Edmunds claimed the pandemic has “led to a tremendous increase in littering.”

Under his legislation, the minimum fine for littering in Virginia would double, going from $250 to $500.

“I’ve never seen it as bad as it is now,” Edmunds said. “It is atrocious.”

According to Virginia’s transportation department, 75% of roadside litter is deliberately thrown on the ground by drivers or pedestrians.

Edmunds said a steeper fine, along with road signs that have warnings about the fine, would be an effective deterrent.

“I just can’t imagine having a mindset that I’m just going to throw out my trash and just dirty up the roads,” Edmunds said. “It’s just a lack of respect.”

Ben Rowe, a spokesman for the Virginia Farm Bureau, voiced his support.

“For the agriculture industry, litter is more than an eye sore, it’s a hazard,” said Rowe. “All too often we hear about litter that has either been illegally dumped on farmland or thrown from a passing car.”

Rowe noted that trash, among other things, can be a health risk for livestock.

Littering is a crime in Virginia.

It is a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months in jail, a maximum fine of $2,500 or both.

Edmunds wanted to raise the maximum fine to $5,000 but he and other lawmakers decided to scrap that part of the legislation.

The legislation passed through the Virginia House and is now heading to the Senate.

There are critics, however.

Democratic Del. Mike Mullin said the increased minimum fine is too severe, given the fact that tossing a cigarette butt is considered littering.

“I can imagine there are a number of Virginians who would prefer not to have a half-a-grand fine for tossing a cigarette butt outside their car door,” Mullin said.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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