Frequently Asked Questions

1. Who is subject to the Litter Tax?

Every manufacturer, wholesaler, distributor and retailer of the following products is subject to the litter tax:

  • food for human or pet consumption
  • groceries
  • cigarettes and tobacco products
  • soft drink and carbonated waters
  • beer and other malt beverages
  • wine
  • newspapers and magazines
  • motor vehicle parts
  • paper products and household paper
  • glass containers
  • metal containers
  • plastic or fiber containers made of synthetic material
  • cleaning agents and toiletries
  • distilled spirits

The tax does not apply to businesses where the sale or distribution of taxable products is incidental to normal business operations, such as establishments that sell snacks or soft drinks as a convenience to employees or customers.  Other examples include nursing homes, hospitals (excepting gift shops and cafeterias), dry cleaners, laundromats, antiques shops, repair garages, and companies that maintain "honor system" boxes.

2. What is the litter tax rate?

The litter tax is imposed at a rate of $10 per business establishment.  An additional tax of $15 per business establishment is imposed on businesses that manufacture, sell or distribute groceries, soft drinks, and beer.

3. Where can I get additional information about payment of the Litter Tax?

Additional information and answers to specific questions regarding the payment of the Litter Tax by calling the Virginia Department of Taxation's Customer Service for Businesses Section at 804.367.8037.  Additional information is also available on the Virginia Department of Taxation's Website (www.tax.virginia.gov).

4. What can I do when I see someone Litter?

Each Virginia jurisdiction has a litter program manager or contact, and a unique litter program. Some jurisdictions encourage citizens to report litter bugs, heavily littered spots or stretches of road, or an illegal dump site.  It takes the commitment of the local police force, judges, and witnesses to convict people of littering.  Therefore, many localities find other ways to combat litter in their jurisdiction.  This can include training ambassadors to do litter outreach in the community, organizing litter pick ups, etc.  Contact your local litter program manager to find out what you can do to help prevent litter in your jurisdiction.  Go to the DEQ contacts page at: Virginia Recycling and Litter Prevention Contacts.

5. Is recycling mandatory in Virginia?

Yes, recycling is mandatory for local governments (cities, counties and towns, or regional groups) in Virginia. In 1989, the Virginia General Assembly adopted legislation which set recycling rates for communities: 10 percent by December 1991, 15 percent by December 1993 and 25 percent by 1995. The current mandated recycling rate for Virginia effective July 1, 2006, is either 15% or 25% based upon population density and area unemployment rate.  Localities may adopt ordinances to require recycling and/or recycling reporting by businesses.

6. What does DEQ do about recycling?

Virginia DEQ encourages and supports litter prevention and recycling activities in the Commonwealth by providing guidance and program assistance through an information clearinghouse which includes DEQ's website information and presentations at public meetings and conferences.  DEQ is also responsible for administering the grants program that supplies funding from the Virginia "litter taxes" for various projects. Non-competitive litter grant funds are made available to localities, based on population and road miles, for local litter prevention and recycling program implementation, continuation and/or expansion. Grants may be provided to local governments and non-profit entities for special projects related to litter prevention and recycling when funding is available.

7. Where Do My Recyclables Go?

Recycling is a locality-based system in Virginia, meaning that recycling programs are managed by the jurisdiction you live in, and the materials collected may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The most commonly collected items in these programs include paper, metal, plastic, and glass. Other materials that may be collected include waste tires, electronics, used oil, carpet, appliances, and textiles. These materials, once collected, are transported to a processor who then bales, shreds or otherwise prepares the material for shipping to the end use market such as paper mills, glass manufacturers, and steel and aluminum manufacturers. Click here for an example of how recyclables are managed in the Richmond and Tidewater areas.

8. What do I need to know when I change my own vehicle motor oil?

Improperly disposed used motor oil can end up in landfills, sewers, back yards, or storm drains. In all these cases, soil, groundwater and even drinking water may be contaminated. One gallon of used oil has the potential to contaminate up to one million gallons of drinking water. Additionally, used oil that ends up in rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands can threaten aquatic life. For more information on the impacts of the improper disposal of used motor oil and the recommended methods of collecting used oil for recycling and reuse, please refer to the American Petroleum Institute's Used Motor Oil Collection and Recycling Website at www.recycleoil.org. Information on Virginia's Used Motor Oil, Oil Filters and Antifreeze Collection Sites is available at Va - Recycling Your Used Oil.

9. How do I manage or recycle household dry cell batteries?

Households generate a large number of used alkaline and carbon-zinc (dry cell ) batteries each year, powering toys and other electronic items such as radios, flashlights, iPods, etc. These batteries are single-use batteries, and may be disposed of in your household trash.

Rechargeable batteries may be recycled in a number of ways. Many electronics stores (Radio Shack as an example) may offer rechargeable battery recycling. Some localities offer household hazardous waste collection events at which they can accept the rechargeable batteries. You can also order on-line a collection box for the rechargeable batteries from the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation which can be returned to it for proper management and recycling (https://www.call2recycle.org/).

For more information on battery recycling, visit http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/battery.htm.

10. How do I manage or recycle household mercury thermometers?

Household mercury thermometers should be managed appropriately through recycling options in the community or through mail-in programs. Many localities host household hazardous waste events, and the contracted vendor may be able to accept and manage this material for recycling. Contact your local recycling program manager for this information.

When the new technology for temperature-taking, electronic thermometers, was introduced, some pharmacies and hospitals hosted turn-in recycling events, providing coupons for discounts for the new non-mercury thermometers. This is no longer a common practice. Individual pharmacies may take your old mercury thermometers if you ask.

One program has been identified that will accept the household mercury thermometers mailed in quantities to its operation. The program can not handle individual thermometers, and the cost is in excess of $400. This might be something a local government can incorporate into its HHW events if the local vendor is unable to accept of manage the thermometers. Visit http://www.bethlehemapparatus.com/solutions for more information.

11. What allows localities to require the reporting of recycling data?

Section 15.2-939 of the Code of Virginia provides that "any locality may by ordinance require all nonresidential solid waste generators and companies that manage solid waste or recycle materials generated within its jurisdiction to annually report such nonproprietary information regarding waste generation, waste management, and recycling as is necessary to facilitate compliance with regulations adopted pursuant to Section 10.1-1411 of the Code of Virginia, any report required under this section shall be based on volume or weight, provided that where such measurements cannot be accurately determined, the report may be based on carefully estimated data."

What is the punishment for littering in Virginia?

Litter as a civil offense:

§ 10.1-1418.1. Improper disposal of solid waste; civil penalties.

A. It shall be the duty of all persons to dispose of their solid waste in a legal manner.

B. Any owner of real estate in this Commonwealth, including the Commonwealth or any political subdivision thereof, upon whose property a person improperly disposes of solid waste without the landowner's permission, shall be entitled to bring a civil action for such improper disposal of solid waste. When litter is improperly disposed upon land owned by the Commonwealth, any resident of the Commonwealth shall have standing to bring a civil action for such improper disposal of solid waste. When litter is improperly disposed of upon land owned by any political subdivision of this Commonwealth, any resident of that political subdivision shall have standing to bring a civil action for such improper disposal of solid waste. When any person improperly disposes of solid waste upon land within the jurisdiction of any political subdivision, that political subdivision shall have standing to bring a civil action for such improper disposal of solid waste.

C. In any civil action brought pursuant to the provisions of this section, when the plaintiff establishes by a preponderance of the evidence that (i) the solid waste or any portion thereof had been in possession of the defendant prior to being improperly disposed of on any of the properties referred to in subsection A of this section and (ii) no permission had been given to the defendant to place the solid waste on such property, there shall be a rebuttable presumption that the defendant improperly disposed of the solid waste. When the solid waste has been ejected from a motor vehicle, the owner or operator of such motor vehicle shall in any civil action be presumed to be the person ejecting such matter. However, such presumption shall be rebuttable by competent evidence. This presumption shall not be applicable to a motor vehicle rental or leasing company that owns the vehicle.

D. Whenever a court finds that a person has improperly disposed of solid waste pursuant to the provisions of this section, the court shall assess a civil penalty of up to $5,000 against such defendant. All civil penalties assessed pursuant to this section shall be paid into the state treasury and deposited by the State Treasurer into the Virginia Environmental Emergency Response Fund pursuant to Chapter 25 (§ 10.1-2500 et seq.) of this title, except as provided in subsection E.

E. Any civil penalty assessed pursuant to this section in a civil action brought by a political subdivision shall be paid into the treasury of the political subdivision, except where the violator of this section is the political subdivision or its agent.

F. A court may award any person or political subdivision bringing suit pursuant to this section the cost of suit and reasonable attorney's fees.

(1990, c. 430; 1991, c. 718; 1992, c. 27; 1997, c. 353.)

Litter as a misdemeanor:

§ 33.1-346. Dumping trash, companion animals, etc., on highway, right-of-way or private property; penalty.

A. It shall be unlawful for any person to dump or otherwise dispose of trash, garbage, refuse, litter, a companion animal for the purpose of disposal, or other unsightly matter, on public property, including a public highway, right-of-way, property adjacent to such highway or right-of-way, or on private property without the written consent of the owner thereof or his agent.

B. When any person is arrested for a violation of this section, and the matter alleged to have been illegally dumped or disposed of has been ejected from a motor vehicle or transported to the disposal site in a motor vehicle, the arresting officer may comply with the provisions of § 46.2-936 in making such arrest.

When a violation of the provisions of this section has been observed by any person, and the matter illegally dumped or disposed of has been ejected or removed from a motor vehicle, the owner or operator of such motor vehicle shall be presumed to be the person ejecting or disposing of such matter. However, such presumption shall be rebuttable by competent evidence.

C. Any person convicted of a violation of this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by confinement in jail for not more than 12 months and a fine of not less than $250 or more than $2,500, either or both.

In lieu of the imposition of confinement in jail, the court may order the defendant to perform community service in litter abatement activities.

D. The governing bodies of counties, cities and towns are hereby authorized to adopt ordinances not in conflict with the provisions of this section, and may repeal, amend or modify such ordinances.

E. The provisions of this section shall not apply to the lawful disposal of such matter in landfills.

(Code 1950, § 33-279.1; 1950, p. 453; 1970, c. 264; 1972, c. 65; 1976, c. 773; 1978, c. 226; 1981, c. 340; 1988, c. 805; 1995, c. 657; 2000, c. 20; 2003, cc. 113, 787.)

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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000


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