If you pick up a piece of trash and put it back where you found it, is that littering?
October 1, 2006 7:12 PM   Subscribe

If you pick up a piece of trash and put it back where you found it, is that littering?
posted by airguitar to Law & Government (30 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
No. Picking something up doesn't imply that you have taken possession of it.
posted by solid-one-love at 7:22 PM on October 1, 2006


Yes. I doubt that littering ordinances differentiate between pre-littered litter and regular litter. My moral compass agrees--once I pick up a piece of trash, it's my responsibility to find a suitable receptacle.
posted by maniactown at 7:24 PM on October 1, 2006


Yes. The law in CT:
Sec 22a-250. Littering or dumping prohibited. Orders. Procedures. Penalties. (a) No person shall throw, scatter, spill or place or cause to be blown, scattered, spilled, thrown or placed, or otherwise dispose of any litter upon any public property in the state or upon private property in this state not owned by him...
posted by smackfu at 7:25 PM on October 1, 2006


Yes. For a moment in time the trash was not litter, it was in your hand. Then, you caused it to become litter. That it was ever litter before has nothing to do with it. The acts of picking up and putting down have no connection. You could save someone from drowning. That's good. You could then throw 'em back. That's not good.
posted by scheptech at 7:26 PM on October 1, 2006


solid-one-love wrote:
No. Picking something up doesn't imply that you have taken possession of it.
Wha--? Picking something up just about all it takes to possess that thing, no?
posted by maniactown at 7:33 PM on October 1, 2006


Damn. Thought we had a decent shot at a single-word-answer-only thread. In any case, the question is unanswerable as phrased. What problem are you trying to solve?
posted by facetious at 7:59 PM on October 1, 2006


And why did someone delete my previous answer? That's weird.
posted by facetious at 7:59 PM on October 1, 2006


According to law, yes. (probably)
Ethically, no. According to me.
posted by wemayfreeze at 8:17 PM on October 1, 2006



Wha--? Picking something up just about all it takes to possess that thing, no?


No. I had this debate many moons ago, and while I cannot speak to your jurisdiction, Canada doesn't have a "finders keepers" doctrine. Simply taking unclaimed propery doesn't make it your possession. So if it isn't mine, I'm not legally responsible for it.

Should I put it in the trash? Yes. Is it littering if I don't? No.
posted by solid-one-love at 8:17 PM on October 1, 2006


Interesting. I'm sure the law would be less clear if the litter happened to be, say, a $100 note.

For instance; you pick up a piece of litter that is, infact, litter. The law says you picked it up, it's yours now, and dropping it again is littering.

But if you pick up what you believed to be litter, but it turned out to be someone else's $100 note, I'm sure the law would be less quick to transfer property owenrship of the note to you. Infact, if you kept it and the fuzz caught you, they'd probably charge you for stealing.

The law; it is fickle.
posted by Effigy2000 at 8:25 PM on October 1, 2006


I'd say yes. I doubt whether you own the litter makes any difference. If you toss out a milk crate or beer keg that you "aquired" you'd still be littering.
posted by Mitheral at 9:01 PM on October 1, 2006


Jon Carroll, columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, recently wrote a column relating his experience of this very topic.

Upshot: The cup and I ride under the bay to Oakland. It sits beside me like an infant. My fingers are sticky. I'm a 21st century guy.
posted by trip and a half at 9:20 PM on October 1, 2006


Check out the Crying Indian-Iron Eyes Cody. This ad is kinda cheesy, can't find the original, but it serves the purpose.
posted by snsranch at 9:21 PM on October 1, 2006


Sorry... left out the most germane part of the article:

I considered covertly dumping the cup back where I found it. That act would not be, in a strict sense, littering; it would merely be allowing littering to continue unimpeded. Had I not interposed my body between the cup and the tracks, things would have taken their natural course. Who was I to thwart the cosmic order of things? Of course, my intervention could have been part of the cosmic order of things. It's like the paradox of time travel, only more boring. What would the universe want me to do?
posted by trip and a half at 9:25 PM on October 1, 2006


So if it isn't mine, I'm not legally responsible for it.

Do you really have to own something in order for it to be considered littering when you throw it away irresponsibly? If my sister pays for a can of soda, and then I throw it in the street, I've committed no crime?
posted by 23skidoo at 10:45 PM on October 1, 2006


I don't think your analogy is analogous, 23skidoo.
posted by solid-one-love at 10:53 PM on October 1, 2006


Simply taking unclaimed propery doesn't make it your possession.
No, but you're in control of it. If you then choose to drop it back on the ground, it's littering.

This has got to be a common legal principle, with applications ranging from the trivial like this to taking and crashing a car you found abandoned in the street, but I hesitate to call the lawyers into this thread...
posted by Pinback at 11:04 PM on October 1, 2006


Simply taking unclaimed propery doesn't make it your possession. So if it isn't mine, I'm not legally responsible for it.

What if you found, say, a book on the ground, picked it up, took it home and read it, then brought it back to the spot you found it and dropped it again?
posted by Espy Gillespie at 11:18 PM on October 1, 2006


What about if you kick a piece of litter from one place to another? Are you then to be accused of 'littering'? I don't think there's a requirement of a change of elevation in order to litter right..?
posted by wackybrit at 2:34 AM on October 2, 2006


Lawyer here. Don't look at this from a "possession" angle. You don't own something until you take it with the intent to keep it indefinitely. Look at it instead from a tort law perspective. You generally have no duty to dispose of someone's litter that you come across in a public area. But once you pick up that piece of litter, you have assumed the responsibility to "care" for it as if it were your own. As an analogy, you don't have a responsibility to rescue a drowning victim to whom you have no prior relationship - but once you start the rescue, you legally must finish it.

Whether or not you are guilty of littering in this case probably depends on whether littering is a crime or an administrative violation in your jurisdiction. Criminal codes set a much higher bar for liability; a court would likely not rely on common-law tort duties to resolve the issue. As a practical matter, you'd be able to argue your way out of it before a traffic court judge or whoever hears your contested ticket.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 2:45 AM on October 2, 2006 [1 favorite]


"As an analogy, you don't have a responsibility to rescue a drowning victim to whom you have no prior relationship - but once you start the rescue, you legally must finish it."
posted by Saucy Intruder at 8:45 PM AEST on October 2

Are you kidding me? If I go to rescue someone whos drowning and then find I'm in over my head and withdraw to save my own life because I can't save both of us, I'm somehow liable? That's insane.

So to get back on topic here, if one does not own the litter after picking it up, but is merely caring for it, does that mean the original person who dumped the litter could (hypothetically speaking) sue you for stealing if you don't give it back?
posted by Effigy2000 at 2:55 AM on October 2, 2006


Are you kidding me? If I go to rescue someone whos drowning and then find I'm in over my head and withdraw to save my own life because I can't save both of us, I'm somehow liable?

I think it's more the case that if you jump in to save somebody from drowning, pull him halfway out, and then say "Just kidding!" and drop him back in the water, you're then liable.
posted by antifuse at 3:18 AM on October 2, 2006


What if someone leaves a flyer on your car?
posted by kirkaracha at 6:33 AM on October 2, 2006


Saucy, Canada is one of six nations with good samaritan laws; you are required to render assistance to a drowning man unless it would put you at risk. I bring this up to outline that different places do things differently.
posted by solid-one-love at 6:50 AM on October 2, 2006


If you dropped a piece of trash and it ended up loose in the landscape, I would certainly call that littering, regardless of where you got it in the first place.

But provided it's your general policy to clean up more litter than you drop, I would not consider you a contemptible person for doing so.
posted by flabdablet at 7:36 AM on October 2, 2006


I had an exgirlfriend chastise me for this. I'm a curious person. I don't think I should be punished for my curiousity. I am not a litterer. Here's the way I see it... Pick it up and throw it away: Karma++. Litter: Karma--. Pick it up and return it to the same place? That's a wash. You could have got the bonus points, so you're not perfect, but you're not a litterer, either.

Following the alternate theory leads to some pretty awkward acceptance of responsibility. Let's say you pick up a newspaper to throw away and there's a used condom inside. If you decide that it's more trouble than you were willing to take on and you drop it, are you now not only ethically culpable for littering, but for littering a biohazard, as well? Are you better or worse than the person who never intended in the first place to try to pick up litter? Why is possession the magic bullet? Why is possession different from kicking (as mentioned above) or viewing the trash?
posted by Skwirl at 10:27 AM on October 2, 2006


Are you kidding me? If I go to rescue someone whos drowning and then find I'm in over my head and withdraw to save my own life because I can't save both of us, I'm somehow liable? That's insane.

No, that would not make you liable (in the US at least). Saucy Intruder was just sketching out the doctrine in shorthand for its purposes in this thread. There are commonsense exceptions, like saving your own life, that alleviate you of the duty you took on.

I second SI's explanation, I think he or she basically summed up the relevant principles: assumption of duty and control (not possession, repeat: not possession).
posted by Falconetti at 10:47 AM on October 2, 2006


Let's lay aside possession, then. I don't think that there is any assumption of duty or control when one picks an object up from the ground.
posted by solid-one-love at 2:51 PM on October 2, 2006


Which is not to say that there is no responsibility to do the right thing. The original poster didn't ask "is it right or wrong?", but "is it littering?" Putting it back on the ground would, again IMHO, be wrong but not littering.
posted by solid-one-love at 2:52 PM on October 2, 2006


For a moment in time the trash was not litter, it was in your hand. Then, you caused it to become litter.

What if it's touched without being moved or picked up?
posted by airguitar at 9:26 PM on October 2, 2006


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