Can I be arrested for littering in NC?

Littering is illegal in North Carolina, even when accidental. Unintentional littering of fifteen pounds or less is classified as an infraction which carries a fine of up to one hundred dollars and up to twelve hours of community service. When the same amount of littering is done intentionally, the offense becomes a Class 3 misdemeanor with double the community service requirement and much steeper fines. In addition to twenty-four hours of community service, intentional littering comes with a fine of two-hundred and fifty to one-thousand dollars. If the littering occurs from your vehicle, you can also receive points on your driver’s license.

North Carolina takes littering seriously. The state’s Department of Transportation has a Swat-A-Litterbug Program that provides multiple avenues, including a phone app, for the public to report people who litter. Currently, House Bill 100, known as The Highway Cleanup Act of 2021 is up for consideration in the General Assembly. Aimed at reducing littering, the bill proposes a substantial increase in funds to the Department of Transportation for anti-litter campaigns and to compensate law enforcement in small counties for picking up trash along rural roads. If passed, the initiative would substantially increase the fines for littering to five-hundred to two-thousand dollars for a first offense, and up to four thousand dollars for a repeat offense.

The penalties for what most people think of littering are limited to fines and community service. However, you can be arrested for littering in North Carolina – it all depends on how you litter, what you litter, and how much. Illegal dumping, or large amounts of waste improperly disposed of in unauthorized areas, is a felony. Littering is a Class I felony when the amount exceeds five hundred pounds, if the waste is for commercial purposes, or if the waste is hazardous. If you are convicted of illegal dumping, you can be sentenced to at least three months in jail or up to twelve months. 

While that fast food trash blowing out of your truck bed on the highway may seem like no big deal, remember that littering is illegal whether you do it intentionally or not. If the fines and community service are not enough to encourage you to dispose of your trash properly, remember that illegal dumping can be charged as a felony with jail time. As with any crime, if you are charged with littering of any kind, contact a criminal defense attorney. The fine may seem insignificant, but the points on your license can drive up those insurance premiums.