If you leave trash sitting around long enough (about 50 years), something mysterious happens and it stops being litter (punishable by a $200 fine) and becomes an archaeological resource which if you remove from federal land could lead to a $500 fine and six moths in jail.
What’s the difference?
Litter is, according to the Lincoln County Ordinance:
“Litter” means any quantity of uncontained or openly stored materials which may be classified as trash, debris, rubbish, refuse, garbage or junk, including but not limited to:Ordinance 2018-02 – Litter Control
a) any worn out or discarded material that is ready for destruction or has been collected or stored for recycling or salvage;
b) old or scrap metals, wire, rope, batteries, paper, tires, cardboard, plastic, cans, wood, concrete, glass, crockery, or rubber;
c) dead domestic animals;
d) animal and vegetable wastes from the handling, preparation, cooking, and the consumption of food that is not incorporated into a properly maintained compost system;
e) discarded, broken, or unusable furniture, fencing, or building materials,
f) discarded, broken, or non-functioning appliances, campers, mobile homes, junk vehicles, machinery, fixtures, or any component parts thereof, that are serving no apparent purpose, or will not be made to function within a reasonable time;”
It’s probably worth noting that Lincoln County’s litter ordinance doesn’t just apply to roadsides: “It is unlawful for an owner, lessee, or occupant of private property to allow litter to accumulate on his or her property.” As with the community decay ordinance, there appears to be some potential for overlap between “yard art” and “illegal”.
Archaeological resources are broadly defined by federal law, and include trash over 50 years in age (though only if it is of archaeological interest– that is, “capable of providing scientific or humanistic understanding of past human behavior, cultural adaptation, and related topics…”) Archaeological resources are covered by 36 CFR 261.9 (theft of government property, penalty of up to 500$ and/or up to 6 months imprisonment), which means that they are illegal to remove from federal lands.
So, 50+ year old trash? If it’s on federal ground, leaving it is the safer bet. On private property, while explaining it was an artifact rather than litter might make for an interesting argument, that $200 (each day) fine might also prove persuasive.