Littering Is No Big Deal

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".....the cold never bothered me anyway."

As a fictional character, your time on screen is short. Plus you're often dealing with dramatic or important events. You don't have time to bin your unwanted items. It's much more convenient to just drop them in the street or do a Blind Shoulder Toss. And it's much more dramatic to fling them aside (or into the ocean). In fiction land it seems, littering is no big deal.

Other characters are very unlikely to call the litterer on this, unless they are already established as the Granola Girl, or do it as a parody. Also note that attitudes towards littering have changed over time. In older works, it's not likely to be considered an issue. As more people realise the impact that littering has on the environment, the more noticeable this becomes.

Related to the Rule of Drama. It's usually much more dramatic to physically cast off the hindering item than to conscientiously carry it over to the nearest waste disposal unit. Also related to the Law of Conservation of Detail. Is it really worth screen time to include shots of the character traipsing to the bin?

Can overlap with What Happened to the Mouse?, when people start wondering what the consequences would be of the discarded item lying around for someone else to find.

Note that life or death situations don't apply here (e.g. Throwaway Guns), since in those cases it's really not sensible to worry about littering.

Presumably in the character's universe there aren't too many people doing this (or they have a fantastic street cleaning service) because you rarely see the inevitable result of widespread littering. Contrast Jaywalking Will Ruin Your Life.

Subtropes:


Examples

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     Comic Books  

  • In the Detective Comics story "The Night of Thanks, but No Thanks!" the only criminal Batman finds is a man who litters. Batman swoops in.
    Batman: There's an ordinance against littering, tiny!
    Man: Huh? Oh, Batman! What'd you say..? Litter? Oh, yeah... the wrapper! You're absolutely right, sir! I should be ashamed of myself! And I'm the one who is forever inveighing against the careless masses who turn our streets into garbage pits! We all belong to the city, Gotham is our living room... Good citizenship ever needs reinforcing! Thank goodness you're always with us, Batman! For the moments when carelessness dominates our actions! Good night, sir; and have a quiet evening.
  • Calvin and Hobbes: Subverted when the pair go to Mars, Calvin leaves a candy bar wrapper on the ground but picks it up when Hobbes points it out to him.
    Calvin: Yep, Mars may be a little dull, but it's better than Earth. We've got a whole planet to ourselves. Brand new and unspoiled. No people. No pollution. Nothing but rugged, natural beauty as far as the eye can see.
    Hobbes: That's not your candy bar wrapper over there, is it?
    Calvin: It was just there a minute! I wasn't going to leave it.

     Films — Animated  

  • In Frozen, during "Let It Go," Elsa throws her cape and glove into the wind after embracing her ice powers and admitting that the cold never bothered her anyway. Those two things are never seen again. She also tosses her tiara away just before the third running of the chorus, and during the post-credits stinger, Marshmallow picks it up and dons it himself.
  • The plot kicks off with a discarded glass bottle in Once Upon a Forest when it's casually tossed out a car's window and shatters on the roadway. The next vehicle that comes along is a tanker truck carrying toxic gas. The truck's right front tire gets punctured by the glass shards, which causes the truck to veer off the road and down an embankment, rupturing the tank. The leaking toxic gas begins to kill every living thing in the area.

     Films — Live-Action  

  • It's almost expected that any badass character is going to flick away a cigarette butt at some point in a show of his disdain for the world in general.
  • In Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Charlie is so excited to find a Golden Ticket that he drops the wrapper (and the delicious, delicious chocolate) right in the street and runs off.
  • The entire plot of The Gods Must Be Crazy is instigated by someone throwing an empty coke bottle out of an airplane window.
  • At the end of The Dark Knight Rises, John Blake takes his Gotham P.D. badge and flings it into the river.
  • In the beginning of Super Troopers, the guys in the car throw a bag of weed out of the window.
  • The ocean is a popular spot for dramatic discards. In Titanic (1997), Rose drops in an expensive diamond necklace (appropriately named the Heart of the Ocean), presumably for some sort of closure.
  • ˇThree Amigos!. While the title characters are traveling through the desert to reach El Guapo's hideout, Dusty Bottoms drinks the last of the water from his canteen and carelessly discards it. He apparently forgets that after the Amigos rescue Carmen they'll have to return, and if they don't have any water with them (or something to collect more in) they'll die of thirst. Luckily for them they acquire a plane so they can fly back instead.

     Live-Action TV  

  • Averted in the opening credits of The Odd Couple (the TV series). Oscar throws his cigar on the ground and Felix spears it with the end of his umbrella, returning it to him. The credit sequence ends with Oscar & Felix in the park eating lunch; Oscar tosses his sandwich wrapper on the ground and Felix starts to complain about it.
  • Mad Men: In an early episode, a family goes on a picnic, and just leaves their discarded wrappers, paper plates and food scraps littered all over the picnic site. This is meant to evoke the time period, before many people got serious about the environment, and also their crass consumerism.

     Video Games  

  • Averted in Skyrim. If you discard weaponry in the middle of town, the guards will chastise you for it, sometimes pointing out that a kid could hurt themselves if they find it.
  • In Mabinogi, just tossing unwanted items is usually fine and dandy (most items despawn quickly, or in some cases get grabbed by someone who does want them), but some items, notably skill books that have been read, persist for hours and can't be picked up except by the character that dropped them. The smooth way to get rid of persistent junk is to drop it into a dungeon or into your Homestead, where it will despawn when you leave.
  • Pokémon: While the game doesn't show the consequences of releasing a Pokémon into the wild, fanon holds that this causes all kinds of ecological catastrophes by introducing massive amounts of a single species in a small area.
  • Fallout 3 certainly averts the consequences part. Many areas of the game are hard to navigate without disturbing piles of old cans and other rubbish.
  • Averted as part of an artificial atmospheric action in LEGO Island. Some guys are watching the Formula 1 race talking about how fast they've driven, with Officer Nick Brick going down the line handing out speeding tickets. One of them says she's only ever gone 50 mph.
    Woman: Hey! Fifty is legal! [she throws ticket away and Nick hands her another] What's this for?
    Nick: Littering.
  • Many Harvest Moon games avert this. Littering causes villagers to like you less. In Harvest Moon DS one of the requirements to marry (or "best friend" the Witch Princess in the Japanese version of the Distaff Counterpart game) is to litter.

     Webcomics  

     Western Animation  

  • Surprisingly averted in Banana Man. As Eric eats a banana and undergoes his transformation, the banana peel magically disappears (possibly into his pocket).
  • Exaggerated and parodied in Clone High: In a Very Special Episode, characters acquire littering as a Compressed Vice, but there's so much litter around that one of them dies from it, In the Style of... Final Destination.
  • In many of the Popeye shorts, in the climactic scene where the titular character devours his can of spinach, he typically just drops or tosses the empty can... wherever.
  • Averted in an episode of Spongebob Squarepants. SpongeBob takes Patrick's boating license from him, rips it up, and throws the pieces into the air for dramatic effect. The pieces then conveniently land in a police officer's hand, and the officer pulls Patrick over to arrest him for littering.
  • Lampshaded in The Simpsons "Two Bad Neighbors":
    Homer: Good old Evergreen Terrace: the swankiest street in the classiest part of Pressboard Estates.
    Bart: Well, if you love it so much, why are you always littering?
    Homer: [finishing a canned drink] It's easier, duh. [tosses can on ground]

     Real Life  

  • Many people do this in real life, presumably invoking the Law of Conservation of Detail in relation to their life.
  • American soldiers in the Vietnam War threw away the remains of their combat rations in the jungle after having a quick meal while on patrol. The Vietcong quickly learned that a common fragmentation grenade fit right in an empty can from the ration kits, and they built booby traps with a piece of string added that pulled out the primed grenade when it was tripped.
  • In his account of life with the U.S. Navy Seals, a former senior officer recounts a joint patrol with Afghan soldiers they were training up, who were woefully short of basic field disciplines. He notes that a Taliban unit knew exactly where to set up an ambush because they spotted M&M's packets the Afghans had carelessly dropped, and reasoned that if they waited on this patrol route they'd be able to bump an American unit. Sure enough, the Afghan/SEALS patrol was ambushed on the way back...


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