Ask Mic and Mae: Are boiled peanuts shells considered roadside litter?

Michael DeWitt, Jr.

Posted Aug. 11, 2021

By Michael DeWitt, Jr.

Is the act of tossing boiled peanut shells out your vehicle window considered littering in South Carolina? Or is it simply good for the wildlife?

Question: Sometimes, in the heat of the passionate moment, I will throw boiled peanut shells out the truck window as I drive along, wind whipping in my hair, juice draining down my hands onto the steering wheel. I know it ain’t right, what with peanut allergies and Palmetto Pride and all, but there is just something in this simple, sinful act that purely and shamelessly defines Southern, country-fried freedom!

However, I was in mid-bag the other day when a state trooper got behind me. I didn’t dare toss out any peanut shells, but I wasn’t about to stop eating those delightful legumes, so I put both knees on the steering wheel and kept right on slurping while putting the shells in my shirt pocket. When my pocket got full, and the cop was still there, I began throwing the shells in my wife’s new purse.

But honestly, if the police had given me a ticket for littering, would it have stood up in court?


The Pondtown Peanut Eater

Dear Pondtown Peanut Eater: Evolved Southern people like us have adapted the unique ability to drive while pinching open and slurping peanuts at the same time, with nary a mishap other than maybe a little juice on the front of the trousers or a wet frock tail. In fact, in all of Southern history you’ve never heard of anyone crashing a vehicle because they were eating boiled peanuts while motoring, have you? Neither have we.  So let’s keep blaming cell phones, shall we?

Frankly, we are surprised that the Department of Motor Vehicles hasn’t made peanut eating a mandatory part of the driving test. If you can’t eat an entire 10-ounce bag of peanuts during a standard 10-minute road test without hitting a Boy Scout helping a little old lady cross the street, you don’t deserve the right to call yourself a Southern driver.

(The DMV would make exceptions for those with serious peanut allergies, of course. Those poor souls could simply pass the test by eating a two-piece dark meat from Rigdon’s Fried Chicken located near the railroad tracks in uptown Hampton (Motto: Our chicken’s good enough to stop a train!) while parallel parking, and if you can throw the drumstick bone to the dog in the back of the pickup bed without opening the door then you should earn bonus points on your license!)

But let’s get back to the burning dilemma of your question.  We checked with Google and Yahoo, and they both claim that it is considered littering in South Carolina if you dump out any sort of debris. In fact, according to which website pops up, it can take up to two years for a boiled peanut shell to biodegrade and up to seven years for a dried shell. No website we found could tell us how long it takes for a shell to decompose in a wife’s purse, however, or exactly how long she will fuss about it.  

We then called the Hampton, S.C., Chief of Police, Perry McAlhaney, who advised us that as long as it’s biodegradable there’s no problem in the Town of Hampton, and to his knowledge the HPD has never written a ticket for tossing out peanut shells. But if you get caught throwing the plastic bag out the window, Hampton’s Finest will charge you, confiscate any remaining peanuts you have, and probably take your Coca-Cola, too. Some evidence may disappear, he warned.

If you find do find yourself on the wrong side of the law on this issue, here is how it would likely play out in court:

Defendant: “Judge, I swear I didn’t know it was littering. I’ve been doing it my whole life!”

Judge: “I’m still going to have to give you thirty days in jail, son. The law’s the law. I mean, you went on a two-town littering spree! There is a 20-mile trail of peanuts! By the way, I have examined the evidence and those were some might fine peanuts. Say, you wouldn’t happen to have any more on you, would ya?”

One piece of advice for all you peanut litter bugs out there: always ask for a jury trial. Odds are, everyone on the jury loves boiled peanuts, too, and let he who is without sin cast the first peanut shell.

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