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 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. See also Money to Throw Away.
- 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.
- In Frozen (2013), 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.
- More like Littering Is A Very Big Deal.
- In Turning Red, Mei casts off her ceremonial robe in midair on her way to the SkyDome during the climax. Ironically, she normally considers littering to be a very big deal with environmentalism being a major part of her character.
- 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.
- At the end of Point Break (1991), Johnny Utah takes his FBI badge and flings it into the ocean.
- 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.
- Mercury Rising. After passing out and losing the child he was supposed to be protecting, Art decides that he must stop relying on his "pills" (presumably painkillers). So... where to put them? A bin? Nah, it's much more dramatic to tip them out the window while driving, then throw the bottle after them.
- Iron Man 3. Tony Stark has the ARC Reactor removed from his chest, then decides to throw it into the ocean near the ruins of his destroyed house. Never mind the effect those exotic materials will have on the local ecosystem, it's a dramatic moment, dammit!
- And where did the debris of all those destroyed suits go? Granted the place was burning wreckage by that point anyway, but more mangled metal and spent explosives certainly didn't help the cause.
- The Rebel: As Tony Hancock crosses the English Channel from England to France, he tosses his city gent's hat and umbrella over the side of the ship. Too bad for him that he had his tickets in the hatband.
- Clockwise: After Brian has accidentally pulled the wing completely off Laura's car, he casually tosses it into a ditch. Laura calls him out on it: not because of littering, but because it is part of her car. They continue the journey with the wing tied to the car roof.
- Often parodied in comedy films, where throwing something away turns out to have consequences after all. In Airplane! Ted Stryker tosses his hat and then his coat, only for both to be thrown back to him. In Hot Shots!, Kent throws his pool stick away, apparently impaling someone just off camera.
- Adrian Mole:
- When Adrian loiters with Barry Kent's gang in Growing Pains, Barry tips a rubbish bin over for a laugh, adding that without him, his uncle Pedro would lose his job as a street cleaner. Adrian returns later, and picks up the broken glass, to protect little kids.
- In Wilderness Years, Adrian throws his shoes and socks out of the window, as a mark of his love for Bianca. He notes that many hours later, they are still in the gutter.
- In Weapons of Mass Destruction, Adrian tears up a letter from the bank and throws the pieces from his window into the canal. His neighbour calls him out on it, and later a police officer brings the scraps to him in a bag, one of them bearing his name, as evidence.
- In Five on a Hike Together from The Famous Five, a policeman who disbelieves the Five's story tears up an important piece of paper, before throwing the pieces into the road. Dick then says severely "Don't you have laws against scattering litter in your village?".
- Averted in the Carl Hiaasen novel Sick Puppy. It's the sight of lobbyist Palmer Stoat casually throwing his lunch garbage on the highway as he's driving that leads Twilly to initially go after him - and that's before he even finds out Palmer's involved with a land development deal that will really hurt the environment.
- Averted in the opening credits of The Odd Couple. 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 and 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, the Draper 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.
- Parks and Recreation: Leslie Knope steals Ben Wyatt a "key to the city" of Partridge, Missouri after they refuse to give him one and won't stop mocking him for his antics as their unexpectedly elected Mayor when he was 18. As a way of showing that he is done with Partridge, he hurls the key into one of their lakes. This is lampshaded when a park ranger calls him out on it, saying "maybe use a bin next time, buddy", and made worse when the ranger recognises Ben.
- Averted (eventually) in Batman (1966). The first time the Dynamic Duo used the Batmobile's drogue parachutes to execute a 180-degree turn, they simply drove off and left them lying in the street. After letters of complaint pointing out that this made Batman a litter-lout, the next time they carried out the manoeuvre they alerted the Batmobile Parachute Pickup Service (a van with that label on the side) to clean up for them. One wonders how long the van's crew spent just sitting waiting for a call.
- Odd Squad:
- In "Bad Luck Bears", Oprah haphazardly tosses her juice boxes away twice. The first time around, she angrily throws it on the ground and leaves it there, and when she leaves, one of her assistants runs onto the scene to pick it up. The second time, she does a Blind Shoulder Toss with another juice box, which lands on the floor and isn't picked up by anyone.
- In "Moustache Confidential", there are numerous crumpled paper cups littering the interrogation room where Olive and Otto are interrogating potential thieves of Obfusco's mustache. No one acknowledges them or cleans them up, but the pair do perform Blind Shoulder Tosses of two cups at one point, where they land cleanly into the wastebasket.
- Brütal Legend: Eddie has a habit of casually tossing his cigarette butts whenever he's done with them regardless of where he is. Subverted in the opening, though, as then he's tossing his butt because it's an emergency and he needs to get rid of the distraction after Kabbage Boy's guitar player gets himself into danger by climbing on the set.
- Played straight in Sleeping Dogs (2012) where usually after eating Wei Shen just throws aside whatever package or can he's holding. Often in front of whoever sells it.
- 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. Others may ask if they can keep the item. If you drop rubbish items (i.e. not weapons or armor), NPCs may comment on your littering.
- Peeps will casually litter Startopia. This stray litter is unsightly and will attract vermin when it accumulates. Random litter can be discouraged by having plenty of litter bins, and anything remaining afterwards can be retrieved by Scuzzers. Litter remains important, as it's one source of energy required for the station to run.
- 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.
- Red Dead Redemption II: Arthur eats and drinks, then just throws the cans and bottles away wherever he is. He even throws down a metal bowl after eating his daily stew. What a slob. Crying Indian indeed.
- 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?
- Many Story of Seasons 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.
- There is a straight case in Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town. Laura's first heart event starts with Jacopo needing the Player Character to retrieve his wallet from the sea because he got it mixed up with a banana peel he wanted to discard. Banana peels aren't exactly items that are okay to throw into the sea, either.
- In BloodAndSmoke, Detective Carson has no issue with discarding cigarettes wherever he pleases.
- In The Sword Interval, David throws a soda can into a swamp during a depressing monologue. Fall doesn't comment on it, but the comment section is full of people wondering if he's TRYING to piss off the spirit of nature who they just finished calming down.
- 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 "Litter Kills: Litterally", everyone other than Joan is notably flippant about littering, especially long-time main character Ponce de Leon. Ponce is then killed by an unlikely series of events having to do with being surrounded by litter.
- 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.
- Also averted in "Squid on Strike": Squidward throws his hat on the ground during a strike against the ground. When he announces this fact to Spongebob to get him to do the same, a cop shows up behind him and writes him a ticket 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]
- 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...