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Litter and Garbage Nuisances

Introduction

The state's Model Litter Control Act, contained in Ch. 70.93 RCW, is prefaced with a finding that there is a fundamental need for a healthful, clean, and beautiful environment. The proliferation and accumulation of litter discarded throughout this state impairs this goal and constitutes a public health hazard.

Ch. 337, Laws of 2003 (SHB 1409) amended the Model Litter Control Act provisions by defining litter that is likely to injure a person or damage property as "potentially dangerous litter," making improper disposal a civil infraction, and by authorizing counties to abate a nuisance at the expense of the responsible party. See the Department of Ecology's Litter Website.

This page provides examples on how local governments are addressing the litter problem. Many local governments have adopted the Model Litter Control Act by reference. Others have restated its provisions and have included other provisions for items such as posting of handbills, dumping of trash, spillage of vehicle content onto public roads, sweeping of litter into gutters, and the duty of merchants to keep public areas free of litter. Some local governments have created "Adopt-a Street" programs for litter control. See MRSC's Creating Volunteer Opportunities page.

Comprehensive Litter Provisions

  • Anacortes Municipal Code Ch. 8.08 - Littering - Anacortes Anti-Litter Ordinance
  • Bothell Municipal Code Ch. 8.44 - Litter Control
  • Chelan County Code Ch. 4.16 - Litter Control
  • Kent Municipal Code Ch. 8.04 - Litter Control
  • Lakewood Municipal Code Ch. 8.32 - Litter Control
  • Longview Municipal Code Ch. 7.32 - Litter Control
  • Yakima Municipal Code Ch. 6.86 - Litter Control

Dumping of Trash or Litter

The control of unlawful dumping or littering generally is handled in one of three ways. The first is to pattern ordinances to the Model Litter Control Act. RCW 70.93.060, which prohibits littering, would cover a situation where a person dumps trash or rubbish on public property or, without permission, on private property owned by another. In 1993, the state legislature decriminalized the penalty for violating the littering regulations in Ch. 70.93 RCW.

In addition to handling litter control under Ch. 70.93 RCW, some jurisdictions appear to criminalize the dumping of trash under their garbage control provisions, presumably imposing the criminal penalty assigned to any general misdemeanor.

Finally, once litter or garbage has been deposited on property, many cities require its removal by the property owner. Failure to do so may constitute a nuisance, which is subject to criminal penalty and may require abatement. For other examples, see also Comprehensive Litter Control Provisions.

  • Burien Municipal Code Sec. 8.45.020(5c)(viii) - Illegal dumping and (5c) (ix) - Dumping in Waterways
  • Everett Municipal Code Ch. 10.70- Offensive Littering - Depositing any rubbish, trash, garbage, debris or other refuse....draining contaminated source onto another land without permission
  • Mercer Island Municipal Code
    • Sec. 8.24.020(G) - Types of Nuisances - Dumping material without a permit
    • Sec. 8.04.030(B) - Disposal of garbage, refuse, recyclables and yard and garden waste - Use of garbage cans
  • Snohomish County Ordinance No. 05-136 - Dumping, passed 11/30/2005

Dumping of Yard Debris/Waste

  • Auburn Municipal Code Sec. 8.08.130 A - Disposal Restrictions Generally
  • Eatonville Municipal Code Sec. 8.04.080 - Outdoor Dumping and Burning
    It is unlawful for any person to bury, burn or dump wastepaper, boxes, rubbish and debris, brush, grass, leaves, weeds and cuttings from trees, lawns, shrubs and gardens upon any street, alley or public place.
  • Kitsap County Clean Kitsap County - Program information to Clean up litter and illegal dumping from public properties and assist private property owners with limited resources to clean up accumulated garbage from nuisance properties
  • Lake Forest Park Municipal Code Sec. 8.04.050 - Unlawful Disposal of Municipal Solid Waste, Recyclables, Yard Waste and Bulky Yard Waste
    A. It is unlawful for any person to dump or in any manner dispose of municipal solid waste, recyclables, yard waste or bulky yard waste upon any street, alley, public place, private property, wetlands and their buffers, or streams and their buffers within the city.
  • Mountlake Terrace Municipal Code Sec. 13.10.050 - Unlawful Acts
    It is unlawful to deposit, throw or place any garbage, recyclables or yard debris in any public street or other public place.
  • Pierce County Public Works and Utilities Illegal Dumping - Description of issue, links to code provisions, and where to obtain assistance

Handbills

Provisions for the distribution of handbills vary little from place to place other than a slight variant in wording.

  • Bellingham Municipal Code Sec. 10.60.150-.190 - Litter Control - Handbills - Covers distributing in public, placing on vehicle, deposit on vacant property, distribution on posted premises, and distribution on private premise prohibited unless handed directly, or placed securely.
  • Chelan Municipal Code Sec. 8.44.180-.220 - Litter Control - Handbills
  • Edmonds Municipal Code Sec. 6.40.120-.160 - Litter Control - Handbills
  • Everett Municipal Code Ch. 9.48 - Handbills - Distribution Near Schools
  • Lewis County Code Sec. 8.30.060 - Litter Control - Handbills - Provides exemption for exemption for mail and newspapers
  • Skagit County Code Sec. 9.41.170 - Solicitation in County Parks - requires permission to distribute or post any handbills, circulars, or signs

Garbage

Uncollected and improperly stored accumulations of solid wastes can cause fires, stench, and attract rodents and insects.

  • Bellingham Municipal Code Sec. 9.12.030 - Deposit of Garbage and Refuse
  • Enumclaw Municipal Code Sec. 8.12.230 - Unlawful to Throw, Place or Scatter Garbage

Plastic Bags and Styrofoam Containers

Washington State

In 1989, the Washington Legislature preempted local governments' ability to regulate product disposal and product packaging; however, the legislation (Laws of 1989, ch. 431, § 50) contained an expiration date of July 1, 1993. Two cities had passed ordinances prior to 1989. Currently there are 11 cities and one county including: Bainbridge Island, Bellingham, Edmonds, Issaquah, Lacey, Mercer Island, Mukilteo, Olympia, Port Townsend, Shoreline, Tumwater and Thurston County.

  • Bainbridge Island Municipal Code
    • Sec. 13.28.200 - Single-use plastic and recyclable paper carryout bags
    • Ch. 8.24 - Use of Nonbiodegradable Packaging Materials
  • Bellingham Ordinance No. 2011-07-034 - An ordinance of the city council regulating retail establishments’ provision of single-use carryout bags, passed 07/11/2011
  • Edmonds
  • Friday Harbor Municipal Code Ch. 8.10 - Restrictions on the Use of Polystyrene Materials in Food Service Containers
  • Issaquah Municipal Code Ch. 8.07 - Food Packaging
  • Lacey Municipal Code Ch. 8.06 - Carryout Bags
  • Mercer Island Plastic Bag Ban, effective April 22, 2014 (Earth Day)
  • Mukilteo
  • Olympia Municipal Code Ch. 8.26 - Single-Use Bags
  • Port Townsend Municipal Code Ch. 6.20 - Unlawful Use of Harmful Packaging Materials
  • Seattle
    • Plastic Bag Ban The "Bellingham Model" - Webpage of Seattle City Council Member Mike O'Brien
    • Ordinance No. 123775 - An ordinance relating to the City of Seattle's solid waste system, regulating the distribution of single-use plastic and biodegradable carryout bags and requiring retail establishments to collect a pass-through charge from customers requesting recyclable paper carryout bags, and amending Seattle Municipal Code Chapter 21.36, introduced November 21, 2011, passed 12/19/2011
    • Ordinance No. 122752 - Establishes an advanced recovery fee (a green fee) for disposable shopping bags, provides a deduction for the green fee from the city's business license tax, creates two new positions, and amends Seattle Municipal Code Chapters 21.36, 21.40, and 5, passed 07/28/2008. Ordinance No. 122752 was repealed following a referendum in 2009
    • Referendum No. 1, Seattle Ethics and Election Commission, election 08/18/2009
    • Seattle Bag Fee on Ballot: Would it Change our Habits?, by Marc Ramirez, Seattle Times, July 21, 2009
  • Tumwater Ordinance No. 02013-016 - Adds Ch. 8.14, Single-Use Bags, starting July 1, 2014, passed 09/17/2014
  • Thurston County
  • Tumwater Ordinance No. 02013-016 - Adds Ch. 8.14, Single-Use Bags, starting July 1, 2014, passed 09/17/2014

Last Modified: January 26, 2018