April 8, 2005 12:17 PM   Subscribe

If I'm out riding my bike and I eat an apple or banana and dispose of the core or peel by tossing it in the woods or on the edge of a farm field, am I littering?

This was the subject of much heated debate on a recent ride. Someone tossed a peel, and another rider actually stoped their bike, went back, and picked up the peel from the side of the road. He then proceeded to tell the person who tossed the peel that he was littering, etc. He stated that the peel wouldn't break down all that fast. Several other riders told him that this was ridiculous.
posted by fixedgear to Science & Nature (34 answers total)
Personally, I'd say that it was littering. As a matter of principle, and to avoid having to make judgement calls all the time, when out riding/hiking, I take *everything* back home, in a plastic bag (e.g. a vegetable bag from the supermarket). Once back home, organic stuff goes to the compost heap, any recyclables are recycled, and trash goes to the trash.
posted by carter at 12:22 PM on April 8, 2005

He then proceeded to tell the person who tossed the peel that he was littering, etc. He stated that the peel wouldn't break down all that fast.

Fruit peels are often treated with waxes, herbicides, pesticides and other organic chemicals along their way from the farm to the market to your knapsack. Some bananas are treated before sale.

I would dispose of a fruit peel the same way I would dispose of other waste, taking it to the trash can.

I would only compost a fruit peel if I planned not to use the resulting compost on a food garden.
posted by Rothko at 12:30 PM on April 8, 2005

In my judgement, I would consider this to be littering. While as litter goes, an apple core is pretty innocuous -- not the kind of thing that calls for heated debate -- it's still by definition litter: you've left garbage as a legacy of your passing.

It's not polluting, but it's still littering.
posted by majick at 12:30 PM on April 8, 2005

It makes more sense to throw a peel or whatever organic leftover into a field than put to it into a plastic bag to be interred in a landfill.
posted by subatomiczoo at 12:31 PM on April 8, 2005

If someone threw a banana peel onto my lawn, I'd be pissed off and pick the thing up and throw it away. That's littering.

If someone threw a single banana peel into my forest, I wouldn't mind, especially if he swept a few leaves over it. On the other hand... I wouldn't be all that bothered by a single piece of gum being spat on a city street.

I say it's littering, but a relatively good kind of littering.
posted by rxrfrx at 12:32 PM on April 8, 2005

It is not littering--except in the desert, where it is. In the dry air, things biodegrade more slowly. Orange peels in particular take years to break down.
posted by LarryC at 12:39 PM on April 8, 2005

yes, it is littering. (1) you are throwing it onto private property. (2) both fruit peels take a very long time to break down.
posted by seawallrunner at 12:50 PM on April 8, 2005

If it's organic, it's not littering. And bio-degrading isn't the only way to be rid of it - birds, animals, etc. can take care of the leftovers.
posted by LadyBonita at 12:55 PM on April 8, 2005

A guy I went to college with once said, on this subject, that, for instance, a discarded banana peel might not rapidly degrade in, say, Connecticut, because the fruit is tropical, and Connecticut does not have the proper bacteria for degrading tropical fruit. Or something like this.
I have no idea if this is accurate -- I suspect it's not -- but I thought I'd throw it out there. If, indeed, Connecticut bacteria cannot take care of a banana peel, then that's a stronger argument for this being a case of littering.
Or something.
posted by Dr. Wu at 12:56 PM on April 8, 2005

Legally, it's littering. The law doesn't distinguish between organic and artificial waste. I agree it is comparatively benign if it is falling into a forest or the like.

But if you ever try this with a cop watching, expect a ticket.
posted by adamrice at 12:56 PM on April 8, 2005

I would agree with the person who said that it's not polluting, but it is littering. Sure, it's not toxic, but how would you feel if someone came and and tossed biodegradable trash banana peels, apple cores, and their yard waste on your lawn?

I think the fact that it will biodegrade makes it a little better, but how would you like hiking along a trail and the sides of the trail are covered with the leftovers of everyone else who has used the trail?

Sure the bike rider is just one person and it's just one banana peel, but since it's not practical to calculate "5 pieces of fruit per mile are ok" and hand out licences to 5 fruit-litterers, it would probably be best if everyone took their garbage home and put the non-biodegradeable stuff in the trash and the banana peels in the compost bucket.

If you really think it's not litter and that it does so little harm that you don't mind throwing it around, you can take it home and throw it around on your own property, where it presumably won't be litter and won't do any harm. Just keep it off my property and public spaces.
posted by duck at 1:10 PM on April 8, 2005

back in the days of usenet, this was a long long topic of discussion. i would guess on, because that's what i read for a time. someone did an experiment leaving peels out in their back yard, but i cannot remember the conclusion. you could search through google groups.
posted by andrew cooke at 1:14 PM on April 8, 2005

Breakdown time of organic matter depends less on climate than the health of the soil the organic matter is deposited into. On good, moist, crumbly soils rich in microorganisms, organic matter breaks down practically overnight: soil microflora, worms, and ants all do their bit. An animal carcass, such as a goat, will be broken down bones and all after about a week (if I were disposing of a body, I would bury it in a compost heap).

Note that this all depends on burying the organic matter under a thin layer of topsoil (DON'T compact the soil after burying). Surface deposits take longer. Also, organic matter doesn't break down quickly at all when in contact with lifeless, chemically treated soils such as those found in most cultivated fields and gardens, but burying organic waste in these soils can't hurt.

So in summary, bury, don't throw away. Banana peel is actually one of the most ideal plant-foods around. Don't, however, expect apple trees to spring up from buried apple cores (and if one does, don't expect the fruit to taste very good).

On preview, I would be ecstatic if people littered my property with discarded fruit.
posted by Ritchie at 1:22 PM on April 8, 2005

I've heard from raptor preservation groups that throwing a banana peel out a car window can attract rodents to the road-side, which attracts hawks and owls, which leads to them being hit by cars. So, whether it's littering or not, it could possibly have some unintended consequences.
posted by hydropsyche at 1:47 PM on April 8, 2005

thread from 1994 (including useless comment by me, apparently).
posted by andrew cooke at 1:47 PM on April 8, 2005

It's not polluting, but it's still littering.

I think Majick has the best answer. It's arguable whether it pollutes, but its still bad manners.
posted by timyang at 1:54 PM on April 8, 2005

Surely it's better to dispose of organic stuff like this by returning it to nature, than putting it in a bin where it no doubt ends up in a landfill site. What about throwing apple cores into a river? I do this regularly and assumed it got eaten by fish or whatever. Should I stop?
posted by aisforal at 2:05 PM on April 8, 2005

If it's organic, it's not littering.

Except in the pest / genetic sense. Why do you think they ask you if you're carrying fruit when you cross the border? There are definitely biodegradeable risk factors out there.
posted by scarabic at 2:08 PM on April 8, 2005

if we're talking morals i would say using a bike rather than a car gives you free reign to practically run around raping the countryside. if you see what i mean. if the odd banana peel is the price for one less car, it's a price well worth paying.

taking that a step further, maybe you could wait for an open top sports car to zip by? :o)
posted by andrew cooke at 2:16 PM on April 8, 2005

free rein?
posted by andrew cooke at 2:16 PM on April 8, 2005

If I'm out hiking in the woods, and I toss an apple core or banana peel, wouldn't a bunch of critters make a meal out of it?
posted by davidmsc at 2:31 PM on April 8, 2005

If you took the banana peel and placed it in the back pocket of your bike jersey (or even here if you have one) until you came upon a proper trash receptacle, you definitely would not be littering. Don't make the Indian cry fixedgear. fixedgear starts pollution, fixedgear can stop it.

Plus dad raised you better than to "shit up" somebody else's property.
posted by Fat Guy at 2:40 PM on April 8, 2005

Don't make the Indian cry fixedgear

That wasn't a real tear. They did that with glycerin!
posted by fixedgear at 2:45 PM on April 8, 2005

Where I went to college, the question wasn't "Is it littering?" it was "Does the fruit rind you leave on the side of the road attract animals who will come try to eat it and get run over?" [oh hey, hydropsyche went to the same school as me! I'll ask the VINS people about this next time I'm down there] We toss our non-meat non-dairy non-soup-stock food scraps over the ledge in the backyard and they wind up in a lot of dense undergrowth. Is it littering if you do it in your own yard and no one can see it?
posted by jessamyn at 2:59 PM on April 8, 2005

I remember friends associated with NOLS growing up considered that littering because it was "non-indigenous waste". You wouldn't be hiking along in the woods and happen to see a banana peel there. Also related to the idea of Leave no trace: pack it in, pack it out.

Think about the next guy coming along who sees your banana peel laying there. What if everybody threw their banana peels on the ground?

I've noticed, by the way, that banana peels take a while to break down, even in my compost pile.
posted by jacobsee at 3:57 PM on April 8, 2005

What if everybody threw their banana peels on the ground?

the world would end? oh, wait. no it wouldn't. i can't think of any consequences worse than having a few old banana skins lying around at the sides of country roads (see original post). what were you thinking would happen?
posted by andrew cooke at 4:02 PM on April 8, 2005


from andrew's link:

Pilot incineration programs have been launched, and if all goes well the non-degradable banana peels will have been disposed of by the year 2005. we're almost out of the woods then
posted by jacobsee at 4:03 PM on April 8, 2005

What if everybody threw their banana peels on the ground? would be ugly to have lots of banana skins along the side of the road?
posted by jacobsee at 4:05 PM on April 8, 2005

Does the fruit rind you leave on the side of the road attract animals who will come try to eat it and get run over?

Well, it wasn't a fruit rind, but I did recently see a homeless-and-destitute-looking man stumbling around the street picking up bread crumbs that somehow got strewn around.

Anyway, littering the side of the road with banana peels is "littering", yes. And going back to pick one up is ridiculous, that's true too. I wouldn't recommend either.
posted by sfenders at 4:10 PM on April 8, 2005

If it can't be seen from a public right of way (ie - you threw it right in a hedge, or down into a ditch) it isn't littering. It is littering when the core is in the middle of a recently ploughed field, or on a footpath in the woods. Speed of biodegradation has nothing to do with it - litter is litter whether it is intact or half mulched. Its potential to offend the eye and cause disruption make it litter. If an apple core biodegrades in the woods and nobody sees it - is it litter? IMO no. Of course all non-biodegradeable matter is litter regardless of situ. Nobody knows where it will end up.
posted by fire&wings at 4:18 PM on April 8, 2005

I can't see a problem in disposing of apple cores and banana peels in area of dominant vegetation, like in the midst of bushes for example. But I don't agree with throwing rubbish (it is technically rubbish) anywhere you like (e.g. on the side of the road). This is littering, hey.
posted by sjvilla79 at 4:30 PM on April 8, 2005

I think the problem is competing interests. There are four possibilities - you can dispose of organic matter in a compost, a trash can, an organic environment or an urban environment. Obviously, everyone will agree that it's proper to dispose of a banana peel in a compost, and improper to leave it on a sidewalk. These are clear because the two aspects of trash disposal, the (short term) removal of it from our senses, and the (long term) reintegration of it into the earth point in the same direction in both cases: compost puts it in its place, not randomly scattered somewhere, and also is the most efficient method of reintegration. Leaving it on a city street is at the opposite end, failing in both regards.

However, the other two options are both imperfect - putting it in a garbage can stops it from being an eyesore, but adds unnecessarily to the processing plant's work. Leaving it in the forest allows for natural recycling, but it will take time and reduce the pleasantness of the forest for others in the meantime. The disagreement comes down to which side of this the individual considers more important.

But if someone is willing to turn his bike around to pick up banana peels, I'd encourage him to just carry along a little trowel and bury it.
posted by mdn at 6:18 PM on April 8, 2005

The peel can go right back into the jersey pocket the banana came from. It's not like you aren't washing the jersey after the ride anyway.

Remember the leave no trace rule. Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, err, tread marks. (Ride slicks if you are on pavement.)

Furthermore: You make a bad toss. The peel lands on the road. The guy behind you hits the peel, and goes down.

Do you want the person in front of you throwing stuff, even if it degrades?
posted by eriko at 8:50 PM on April 8, 2005

The peel can go right back into the jersey pocket the banana came from. It's not like you aren't washing the jersey after the ride anyway.

I don't wash my jersey after every ride. They are wool and don't stink like polyester jerseys. I'm trying to lessen my environmental impact by using less water.
posted by fixedgear at 3:21 AM on April 9, 2005

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