A proposed new environmental law would allow judges to sentence convicted litterers to up to 60 hours of community service picking up debris or working in a local recycling facility.
The new law was approved in bipartisan fashion this session by the Texas Legislature, which recently sent House Bill 1884 to Gov. Greg Abbott for his signature. If approved, the bill would go into effect Sept. 1.
Texas House Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson, R-Waco, a practicing veterinarian, authored the bill, with sponsorship from state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst R-Brenham.
“TxDOT had done a study, and there was an 82 percent increase in trash and debris and litter on rural highways. So I mean it was definitely something that was needed,” Anderson said. “Community service is an option that the judge has at that judge’s discretion to actually help clean up the area and help the community in general. It just adds another option and the goal is to discourage that behavior and help clean the trash that the individual may have contributed to.”
Littering was already a class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500 and the possibility of jail time or community service. The new law, if signed, allows sentencing to include some amount of community service picking up litter or working in a recycling facility. The amount of community service hours and where they will be carried out is determined case-by-case by the presiding judge. However, all community service must be carried out in the offender’s county of residence.
Texas roadways accumulate over 434 million pieces of visible litter each year, according to a 2013 survey released by The Texas Department of Transportation. The survey also revealed that one in four Texans admitted to littering in the past year, with younger individuals more likely to do so.
In Austin alone, city staff and volunteers pull 250 tons of trash from Lady Bird Lake and 6,500 tons of trash from the streets annually, according to a 2017 study commissioned by Texans for Clean Water, a nonprofit advocacy group. The city of Austin confirmed and reported that while some of the trash is dropped directly in the water, the majority washes in from streets, parking lots and storm drains.
In 2015, the city of Houston removed over 35,000 cubic yards of litter and debris at a cost of over 1.6 million and the city of Fort Worth removed 2800 tons of debris from illegal dumpsites, spending over $5 million in litter and illegal dumping abatement, the study reported.
The same study revealed that Austin, Corpus Christi, El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston, Laredo, Lufkin, Midland and San Antonio spend more than $50 million per year on cleaning litter.
However, despite the money poured into litter abatement, the study by Texans for Clean Water showed the nine Texas cities spent less than $10 million in 2015 to prevent littering and illegal dumping.
“Enforcement, and letting people know we’re serious about keeping Texas clean, is definitely key in the fight against litter,” said Mike Garver, founder of Texans for Clean Water, in a statement.