TUPELO – When Malcom Johnston saw blue lights flashing in his review mirror a few weeks ago, he was ready for a debate.
Johnston had thrown a banana peel out the window of his moving car and a police officer had seen him. Because the banana peel was biodegradable, Johnston didn’t think he’d done anything wrong, but that’s not what the law says.
Tupelo Police Maj. Jackie Clayton said people get littering laws all wrong. Whether it’s a banana peel or a handful of leaves, throwing things out of your car is against the law. Littering is not restricted to throwing from a vehicle. Throwing trash from your front door is still littering.
Johnston had his own interpretation of the law.
“I knew why he was pulling me over, but I was prepared to correct the officer on the law,” said Johnston. “I told him he couldn’t give me a ticket because a banana peel was biodegradable and not harmful to the environment and therefore it wasn’t litter. But he quickly let me know that I was wrong.”
After a few minutes of debating, Johnston conceded to the officer’s word. Johnston didn’t receive a ticket that day, but Clayton said he very well could have.
“People think just because they throw an apple core out the window it’s fine because it’s biodegradable,” said Clayton. “But that’s not true. It’s littering. You just can’t go around throwing things on the streets, no matter what it is. But we always have people who want to argue it.”
Littering is covered in a Tupelo city ordinance. It includes garbage, rubbish and refuse. Throwing out liquids such as coffee or water is not littering.
Police write anywhere from two to four littering citations a week, according to Clayton. He said it’s a crime police have to witness, so catching people littering is not always easy.
If you ride down the street and flick your cigarette butt out the window, you are littering, according to Clayton.
Although Lee County does not have a county ordinance to address littering, deputies do go by the state littering laws, which are similar to the ordinances.
Sheriff Jim Johnson said that when it comes to biodegradable materials being thrown on roadsides, it’s up to the discretion of the deputy whether to give a ticket.
A littering fine in the city limits is a maximum fine of $169, but it’ll cost you a little of your time in the county. Johnson said that when a person is found guilty of littering, he or she is assigned to the work center where they’ll spend the day being bused around the county picking up trash from the roadside.
“This lets people know what people have to do to keep this county looking nice,” said Johnson. “If you’re going to throw trash out then you’re going to be made to pick it up.”
Sherrie Cochran is environmental coordinator for Tupelo and a member of Keep America Beautiful. She said a clean community helps to improve economic development, as well as assuring a clean ecosystem.
“Developers don’t want to come to a city that is littered up,” she said.
Contact Danza Johnson at (662) 678-1583 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal