Litter Laws & Litter Tax

Rules of the Road – Securing/Covering Loads
Chapter 46.61.655 Revised Code of Washington

The requirement that drivers secure vehicle loads is contained in the state law known as “Rules of the Road,” not the litter law (RCW 70.93). The “Rules of the Road” are enforced by Washington State Patrol and other law enforcement agencies. Ecology partners with Washington State Patrol and county sheriff offices to increase enforcement of this important road safety law. To find out more about secured loads and to see brochures and videos Ecology has developed, visit the Secure Your Load page.

The Waste Reduction, Recycling, and Model Litter Control Act
Chapter 70.93 Revised Code of Washington


The Waste Reduction, Recycling, and Model Litter Control Act (WRRMLCA), or RCW 70.93, is the primary law that guides and directs litter programs in Washington State. Originally passed by the Washington State Legislature in 1971 as the Model Litter Control Act, the law was the first of its kind anywhere. Voters ratified the law in the 1972 general election as an alternative to beverage container deposits. Amendments in 1979 added a youth employment program and public awareness activities concerning recycling.

Concern over the litter problem increased in 1997. The Department of Ecology (Ecology) convened a Litter Task Force to examine the effectiveness of litter control in Washington State. The Task Force made several recommendations for improving the existing system and moving toward a standard of zero litter. These recommendations formed the basis of the 1998 Litter Act (Second Substitute House Bill 3058), amending Chapter 70.93 RCW.

The Act included several changes. Most significantly, it put Ecology in a leadership role overseeing funds from the Waste Reduction, Recycling, and Litter Control Account (see below). A central coordinator* at Ecology works cooperatively with other state agencies (Departments of Corrections, Transportation, Natural Resources, Revenue, Fish and Wildlife, and the Parks & Recreation Commission) to develop programs and monitor their progress and results. By centralizing management of the fund, Ecology can focus on coordinating litter collection and prevention efforts.

*Budget update: funding for the central coordinator position has been eliminated since 2009. Many of the central coordinator functions were terminated, while others were reassigned to Ecology's four regional litter administrators.

Among other things, the law calls for Ecology to conduct programs which prevent and clean up litter, foster waste reduction and recycling, and increase public awareness of the need for recycling and litter control.


RCW 70.93.180 created an account within the state treasury known as the Waste Reduction, Recycling, and Litter Control Account. The account is funded through a litter tax imposed on industries whose products are related to the litter problem.

The law clearly directs how to allocate litter account funds: For the biennium starting July 1, 2013 and continuing until June 30, 2015, just over 50 percent of the Account goes to State Parks and Recreation Commission to fund operation and maintenance of state parks. Of the remaining funds 20 percent goes to the Community Litter Cleanup Program, 30 percent goes waste reduction and recycling efforts, and 50 percent goes to litter cleanup efforts. Besides funding the Ecology Youth Corps, the 50 percent dedicated to cleanup efforts funds litter activities carried out by other state agencies.

Chapter 70.93 also includes information on enforcement and penalties for littering.

Portions of Chapter 70.93 RCW are repeated in Chapter 70.95 RCW, Solid Waste Management - Reduction and Recycling. See section RCW 70.95.240.

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Litter Tax
Chapter 82.19 Revised Code of Washington

Statewide litter and recycling programs outlined in RCW 70.93, are funded by the Waste Reduction, Recycling, and Litter Control Account. Funds in the account come from a tax on industries that sell, manufacture, or distribute products and packaging that tend to become litter. Passed with the original Model Litter Control Act in 1971, the tax is unique because it was businesses and industries who proposed the tax assessment on themselves. The Model Litter Control Act came in response to proposals for a beverage container deposit law, or "bottle bill." Bottle bills have appeared in Washington several times since the early 1970s but have never passed. Either the voters or the Legislature turned them down.

The tax rate, which has not changed since 1971, is relatively small at .015 percent. This equates to $150 per $1 million of gross proceeds. The tax is broad-based and does not create any noticeable effect on consumer prices. In the late 1990s the tax generated between $5 and $7 million per year. In addition to Washington, six other states have similar laws: Nebraska, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Virginia.

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The measure of the tax is the gross proceeds of business sales. It applies to places of business selling products that fall into thirteen categories listed in Chapter 82.19 RCW and further defined in Chapter 458.20.243 Washington Administrative Code. The categories are:
  1. Food for human or pet consumption.
  2. Groceries.
  3. Cigarettes and tobacco products.
  4. Soft drinks and carbonated waters.
  5. Beer and other malt beverages.
  6. Wine.
  7. Newspapers and magazines.
  8. Household paper and paper products.
  9. Glass containers.
  10. Metal containers.
  11. Plastic or fiber containers made of synthetic material.
  12. Cleaning agents and toiletries.
  13. Non-drug drugstore and sundry products.
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Litter Fines

Between 1998 and 2005 the Department of Ecology (Ecology) conducted several focus groups to explore knowledge and attitudes towards littering among key audiences. Many of these focus groups were comprised of people who admitted to littering behavior. When participants were asked what would convince them to not litter, a clear theme emerged. "Knowing I will be caught and fined," was the number one deterrent to littering. Hearing what the fines are was new information for the research participants.

Both focus group and telephone survey participants continue to endorse the use of fines and community service to curb littering behavior. The Litter Task Force recommended that the Legislature and Ecology encourage Washington State Patrol and local governments to enforce litter laws. It also recommended that local penalties "be set at levels sufficient to provide meaningful incentives for compliance." While many support the use of enforcement, studies show that few jurisdictions are able to enforce littering laws effectively for two reasons:
  • Lack of personnel available for such a low priority issue.
  • The fact that it is difficult to "catch" offenders in the act.
RCW 70.93.060 sets minimum fines for littering and illegal dumping. It also encourages local governments to adopt ordinances similar to the state law. Local police departments, sheriff's offices, or health departments carry out most enforcement of litter laws. Many cities and counties have adopted local ordinances that are stricter than the state law. To find out about litter ordinances in your community, check our County Ordinances web page. You may also try contacting the sheriff or police department, county or city clerk, or the code enforcement office.

At the state level, minimum fines are set in state law. As the violation is processed, fees or assessments may be added. This could increase the amount the violator must actually pay. The table below shows littering penalties as outlined in state law, and the actual resulting penalty. This information came from the Washington State Administrative Office of the Courts.

Information on Littering Penalties
Updated October 2007

"Penalty" Per Statute
AOC1 Law Table
Potentially dangerous litter (including lit debris) RCW 70.93.060(4) $500 RCW 7.80.120(1)(a) $1025 (class 1 civil infraction) total penalty1
Littering an amount less than or equal to 1 cubic foot RCW 70.93.060(2)(a) $50 RCW 7.80.120(1)(c) $103 (class 3 civil infraction) total penalty1
Littering an amount greater than a cubic foot but less than a cubic yard RCW 70.93.060(2)(b) Up to $1000 and up to 90 days in jail (misdemeanor2) - RCW 9A.20.021(3)
litter cleanup restitution of twice the actual cleanup cost, not less than $50 RCW 70.93.060(2)(b) - amended
$250 "suggested" bail
Littering an amount greater than a cubic yard RCW 70.93.060(2)(c) Up to $5000 and/or up to 1 year in jail (gross misdemeanor2) - RCW 9A.20.021(2)
litter cleanup restitution of twice the actual cleanup cost, not less than $100 RCW 70.93.060(2)(c)
$500 "suggested" bail
Throwing or depositing litter on highway RCW 46.61.645(1) $87 base penalty; Infraction Rule for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction (IRLJ) 6.2(d) $216 (traffic infraction) total penalty1
Spilling or failure to secure load RCW 46.61.655(7)(c) $87 base penalty; Infraction Rule for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction (IRLJ) 6.2(d) $216 (traffic infraction) total penalty1
Failure to secure load - first degree (causing bodily harm to another) RCW 46.61.655(7)(a) Up to $5000 and/or up to 1 year in jail (gross misdemeanor2) - RCW 9A.20.021(2) $500 "suggested" bail
Failure to secure load - second degree (causing damage to property of another) RCW 46.61.655(7)(b) Up to $1000 and/or up to 90 days in jail (misdemeanor2) - RCW 9A.20.021(3) $250 "suggested" bail
1The fines per Administrative Office of the Courts are higher because they include fees and assessments.
2Misdemeanors are considered "crimes" [versus infractions] and it is up to the judge to assess penalties.

Litterbag in Vehicle Law

If you are familiar with previous Washington State litter laws and fines, you may have noticed that one of the more controversial laws is missing in our fines chart. The $95 fine for failing to have a litterbag in your vehicle or watercraft (RCW 70.93.100) was repealed in July of 2003. While there are many arguments that contributed to its repeal, one of the more influential ones came from members of law enforcement. Some officers argued that the wording of the law made it extremely unpopular to enforce.

The wording of the law made the offense a misdemeanor, requiring a court appearance instead of just a citation. Secondly, patrol officers felt that persons who were not littering met the intent of the law whether or not they had a litterbag. Because of these concerns, the 2003 Legislature increased the fines for littering and repealed the litterbag law.

When Substitute House Bill 1409 addressed the litterbag law in 2003, it deleted the entire section pertaining to litterbags (RCW 70.93.100). To read the deleted text, click here.

Litter Related Violations
Issued by Washington State Patrol

Washington State Patrol enforces litter laws on state highways. The table below shows detail on the citations issued in 2011, the most current data available. Because of the great number of local jurisdictions giving litter citations, we can't tell how strongly litter laws are enforced statewide.

2011 Ticket Written Warn Verbal Warn Total
Failure to secure load 886 3757 2074 6717
Debris escape 225 264 475 964
Uncovered load 50 13 306 369
Debris thrown 236 3 436 675
Debris lighted 157 5 245 407
Total 1554 4042 3536 9132

Total Litter Related Violations
Issued by Washington State Patrol

1998 3,666
1999 3,937
2000 4,509
2001 4,351
2002 4,773
2003 3,995
2004 3,639
2005 3,636
2006 3,427
2007 3,619
2008 3,916
2009 10,783
2010 9,580
2011 9,132
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