Littering is often not a crime at all, let alone a commonly prosecuted one. However, illegal dumping almost always is, and can get you fined. The exact difference depends on local governments, and tends to be different in rural and urban areas as follows:
- In most towns and counties in Canada, the only difference between littering and a charge of dumping is the volume of waste. Generally, littering involves discarding waste that can be picked up easily by government or private employees. When there’s so much waste that employees have a hard time moving it, then you’re in dumping territory.
- In most major cities in Canada, the main difference is type of waste. Leaving around clean household items, wrappers, bottles, and food count as litter, while dropping hazardous materials, yard waste, rotting organics, and unsorted garbage count as dumping.
Furthermore, under various provincial and federal laws, dumping hazardous waste can lead to additional charges, especially if you don’t report it right away.
Sample Laws – Local
In Toronto, dumping laws are strict. Littering is punishable by a fine of no more than $5000, and dumping by a fine of no more than $50,000. What’s the difference? Well, there isn’t much of one.
Dropping any amount of “refuse”, defined as “debris, junk, or effluent associated with a home or trade” on any land or waterway within the city is considered littering, while dropping any amount of “waste” , defined as “garbage, special collection materials, organic waste, and yard waste” is considered dumping.
Does that distinction sound fuzzy? It is. In fact, for almost any collection of waste, the City has the leeway to charge you with either littering, dumping, or both, at their discretion. It’s a good bet just to not leave any garbage around.
Sample Laws – Provincial/Federal
Provinces and the federal government also have laws prohibiting dumping on lands they control. Provincial lands are protected by the Ontario Environmental Protection Act, which, like Toronto, prohibits any unauthorized waste dumping in any amount and can enforce a whole bunch of fines.
Federal lands, like First Nations reserves and army bases, also are protected against dumping by law. Both normal garbage and hazardous goods are prohibited. If you dump anything that can impact waterways, like gasoline, creosote, paint, batteries, and appliances, you could get charged both through the land protection acts and through our fisheries and waterways law, paying double the fines.
If you’re dumping, don’t do it on the government’s turf. Actually, it’s best if you don’t do it at all. Junk removal is much, much cheaper than even the smallest fine for littering!