Laws that prohibit littering have been around for over sixty years. Well before Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring and awakened the consciousness of the world to the many human inflicted ailments of our natural resources,  anti-littering campaigns were resulting in prohibitions on improper waste disposal in states across the country. Vermont was among the first to jump on board with the anti-waste movement, passing the nation’s first bottle bill, which banned the sale of beer in non-refillable bottles. Today, Vermont continues to make strides to ensure that trash ends up in certified waste management facilities where it belongs.

The latest of our state’s legislation on littering has to do with protecting our water resources. Prior to 2013, legal statute prohibited the improper disposal of solid waste on Vermont land, but made no such mention of the state’s waterways. This changed with Bill. no 117, formerly titled H. 356, which expands previous legislation to include a ban on improper refuse disposal on lakes, rivers, and other waterways, including frozen waters, banks, and corridors. This new statute encompasses the disposal of solid waste from aquatic vessels such as a motorboats, canoes and kayaks, jetskis, and other crafts used in water recreation. Penalties for these offenses are no less severe than those imposed for littering on land. A  fine of up to $500.00 may be assessed to the person found to be in violation, as well as assignment of up to 80 hours of service removing trash from a segment of roadside or other public property. Additionally, failure to pay the fine may result in revocation of the violator’s hunting, fishing, or trapping license for a period of one year from the date of conviction.

Littering in our lakes and rivers reflects poorly on the citizenry of Vermont. Plastics that refuse to break down over time provide physical and chemical threats to aquatic wildlife, and leach harmful compounds into the water we bathe in and drink. Broken glass and metals at our recreation areas are unsightly and dangerous. This recent legislation is evidence of an important shift in perspective, where we acknowledge the intrinsic value of our aquatic resources and steward them as we do our land.

Katherine Lord