Definition of Litter


Litter is waste in the wrong place

That is, rather than being placed in a bin or other waste container, waste is left on the pavement, school field or in the park. Litter is untidy and unsightly and can affect people’s view on the value and safety of an area. Litter can consist of anything from a tiny sweet wrapper, or an empty sandwich box, to a discarded mattress in a public park.

The majority of litter comes from people dropping it intentionally or unintentionally, although some litter comes from other sources, for example windblown or natural litter.

Litter includes synthetic materials, such as those associated with smoking, eating and drinking, and also materials that will eventually decay, such as food waste and dog fouling.



Litter comes from different sources, and different people. For instance, it may be intentional litter by motorists discarding litter out of windows, pedestrians dropping litter on the street or footpaths, or people on picnics and at other public space events.

Another source of litter may be unintentional. It may come from uncovered loads and can easily be blown out of trucks, cars and trailers. Household rubbish, commercial rubbish and uncontrolled building waste can become litter if not secured by a proper cover. Finally, there is rubbish from the wind, and rubbish which animals carry from sites that are not properly secured.



Litter can be harmful to people, animals and the natural environment, as it can threaten their existence and evolution. The major impacts involve the danger to public health, the risk of fire hazards, endangering, or even killing wildlife, and the serious damage to waterways. Furthermore, litter directly and indirectly affects the tourist industry and our quality of life. As a result of this irresponsible pollution, protecting the environment from litter requires significant resources, which instead could have been used for environmental preservation or development.


Check out the following figures on the length of time it takes for litter to disappear naturally

  • Paper: 6 months
  • Cigarette butts: 2-5 years
  • Banana peel: 3 months
  • Plastic bags: 10-30 years
  • Gum: 20-25 years
  • Aluminium can: 200-400 years