Bear with me on this one -- I'm going to float a couple of notions first, and then get back to this in another post, if I get any responses. (It has to do with Michael Jackson.)
So let's talk about ... littering ...
Say you are walking down the street eating an ice cream sandwich in a city, state, or federal jurisdiction in which littering is illegal and punishable by a fine. Let's assume for the sake of argument, you know this, having passed twelve signs that say so, all with pictures just in case you can't read.
So, you slurp down the last bite of the delectable junk food -- which is less junky than usual, because it is made from organic cookies; ice cream produced from the milk of contented cows; sugar from happy canes, all of which are processed by workers who get paid well and have health coverage. Naturally, it costs thrice what the crappy ones cost. Doesn't really matter, any of this, but at least it's got some prana.
And finished with your treat, you toss the biodegradable made-from-cornstarch-colorful wrapper onto the ground. Watch it flutter downward, in SLOMO, M.O.S. ...
A sharp-eyed LEO happens to espy you do this, appears like magic, and promptly writes you a ticket.
Do you deserve it?
In my mind, yes. You did the crime, you do the time -- even if it's only how much work you have to do to earn the bread to pay the fine.
Scenario #2. You have no ice cream, alas, but are still enjoying a pleasant walk. You see upon the ground the wrapper of the criminal who did have the delectable treat and who littered. But because it doesn't look like the usual foil ice cream sandwich wrapper and you aren't sure what it is -- might be money, or a treasure map, or the phone number of that hot redhead in the Spandex you passed earlier, you never know. So you bend and pick it up.
Alas, it is but an ice cream wrapper, albeit one that is from a good quality product. No maps, phone numbers, like that. So you drop it, and it lands where you found it.
Before you can take a step, the sharp-eyed LEO materializes and gives you a ticket.
Do you deserve it?
According to the law, yes. Littering laws do not speak to where you obtained the material you cavalierly tossed upon the ground, nor to how long you had it before you committed litter, only to the act itself. In theory, the SELEO could stand there and write tickets all day if passersby were intrigued enough to pick up and then re-discard that same wrapper.
(Were I a local municipality, I could see that as a great way to make revenue. Cut a deal with the local ice cream stores to use wrappers the same color and rough design as, say, a twenty-dollar bill, and people would surely stoop to pick 'em up and then toss them back in disgust. Ka-ching! Ka-ching! go the cash registers at the court house. I know, I know, I have a warped mind to see this road, much less go down it.)
But as to justice: You have added no more litter to the area than was there before. Had you not happened along, the net impact on the environment would have been the same. (Another aside: Years ago, my wife used to justify tossing apple cores out the car window with the rationalization that they were organic, that they'd feed the birds and beasts and bugs, and be gone in a day or two, so no harm, no foul. Of course, one might offer the same defense for leaving one's dog's poop on the ground, and that has not been an effective defense in court, far as I know. The law does not differ in the quality of litter.)
So, do you deserve the ticket in the second instance? As a measure of justice, I don't think so, but I'm interested in hearing from folks how they stand on the question.