Where do I put my banana peel?
June 6, 2006 11:48 AM   Subscribe

Is throwing away organic matter littering?

I'm curious about both legal and ethical thoughts on this. When I'm driving or walking, I tend to just throw organic matter away. I'll throw banana peels, apple cores, chicken bones, etc. on the ground when I'm finished, but other kinds of garbage, I would never just throw on the ground.

Now let me couch this by saying, I wouldn't throw it on people's lawns or the sidewalk or street, but definitely will toss it into the bushes. My reasoning is, that it's going to break down and help the environment, whereas it will just go into a landfill if I throw it in the garbage.
posted by patrickje to Law & Government (46 answers total)
 
I've always done the same thing, but have been chastised by friends for doing so. My logic runs along the same lines that yours does.
posted by youarenothere at 11:52 AM on June 6, 2006


Yesterday CNN had a report about some lady getting a ticket for throwing out 5 spinach leaves from her McDonalds salad.

A judge upheld that it was litter.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:55 AM on June 6, 2006


Stickycarpet, the question was about organic material, not McDonalds spinach.

I have done this, too. I think if it's out of sight, you're actually benefiting the environment.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:00 PM on June 6, 2006


If you would mind someone else throwing it in your living room, it's litter.

(Tempered with common sense. An apple core in the woods? Pfft, no big. A bunch of your organic trash "helping the environment" by the side of the road, or in my field? Not so cool.)
posted by Wolfdog at 12:00 PM on June 6, 2006


Yes, it is litter. If you want to compost, do so in your backyard. People don't want to come across your rotting organic matter, which to me is the crux of the matter. They don't want the dogs they are walking to get a hold of it, &c.
posted by dame at 12:01 PM on June 6, 2006


I sometimes throw unwanted food of some kind on the ground, but my logic is more like "the birds/animals will just eat it". So I'd be more likely to chuck an apple core than a banana skin, for example.
posted by reklaw at 12:05 PM on June 6, 2006


Chicken bones are extremely not cool, as they are very dangerous for dogs. I've tossed an apple core or two in my time as well (out in the country; I'm assuming you're not doing this in Manhattan) and I don't see anything wrong with that, but, like wolfdog says, use common sense.
posted by mygothlaundry at 12:07 PM on June 6, 2006


An apple core in the woods? Pfft, no big.

Unless that species of apple happens to be native to those woods, yeah actually it may be a deal. Don't do that. The rule for hiking is "pack in, pack out". Anything that came in with you should go out with you too.

As for throwing your organics into someone else's bushes, I vote "litter". Many people invest a lot of time in their landscaping, and get hella upset to find either (a) someone's else's discards cluttering up the pretty scene or (b) some unwanted plant has germinated unexpectedly and is crowding out the plants the owner has paid for.

Finally, there's plenty of organic matter that is not only unsuitable for composting (meats, oils) but also tend to attract bugs and vermin.

If you want to divert organics from the wastestream, great -- composting is an easy and rather fun DIY. Just do it on your own damn property.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 12:17 PM on June 6, 2006


I recall this being a topic that really shifted my idea about what the responsible thing was to do. Originally you'd toss your banana peel. Then it became a better thing to do to toss it in the woods or among other wildlife so it would degrade/decay naturally. Then people started telling me that even if you tossed it out your car window into the woods it was bad because animals would come to the side of the road and get hit by cars eating my apple core. And, the Leave No Trace ethic (in camping, at Burning Man) means you take it with you, but that just means that the first few dumpsters outside of the campground or the highway after Burning Man were gross. I live in the country and we toss organic material into the woods if we're not near some handy compost. If we're not near the woods, we'll toss it in the trash can. Chicken bones are potentially harmful if animals eat them (and bad for compost) so I'd never toss them anywhere but a trash receptacle unless I burnt them up in a campfire possibly.
posted by jessamyn at 12:19 PM on June 6, 2006


I'm with those who think it's not a problem. I do it all the time - there's nothing refreshes like a nice juicy apple when out riding the bike on the local desert roads. I like to think some wee foraging beastie might like a snack in the middle of the night. Naturally, I wouldn't throw a core into someone's front yard or anywhere in town, but off the road into the desert brush? I don't see a problem.

On preview, there's no way an apple tree is going to live without heavy-duty irrigation out here.
posted by normy at 12:20 PM on June 6, 2006


previously.
posted by mdn at 12:22 PM on June 6, 2006


A lot depends on where you are. Organic material won't degrade at anywhere near an acceptible rate in the desert, for example.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:26 PM on June 6, 2006




Legally, you're littering. Morally? You decide.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:28 PM on June 6, 2006


the plastic bags and paper and cigarette butts that I throw on the ground are going to break down too, it's just going to take a tiny bit longer, on the geologic time scale.

i vote for slippery slope, with the caveat that I absolutely can't stand littering*.

Excusing organic matter seems to read more as a rationalization of avoiding the extra step of getting it to a proper receptacle. If you ate a banana peel at home would you throw it on the floor of your house? Or out the window into your flowerbed? Would you keep it in your pocket to throw into a bush instead of just putting it in the garbage can if you were in the kitchen?

* ever since I got called a litterbug when I was six for throwing an empty bottle of bubbles into a creek that I wanted to see float down the stream. *sniff*.
posted by fishfucker at 12:29 PM on June 6, 2006


Vegetable matter tossed *into the bushes* or someplace where it won't be seen isn't that bad, but please don't toss chicken/beef/fish/pork bones anywhere besides the garbage. Like mygothlaundry said, they can be extremely dangerous for dogs. Even if you throw them into the bushes, some dogs will smell them and try to get to them (and some may succeed).
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:31 PM on June 6, 2006


What is an "acceptable rate", who decides it, and how?
posted by normy at 12:33 PM on June 6, 2006


don't know if anybody cares to know, but slipping on banana peels was a genuine hazard at the beginning to the 20th century. Banana importers were trying to popularize the fruit, and they succeeded by undercutting apple prices. The problem was that there were no public disposal facilities, and a discarded banana skin is less edible by animals than apple cores, and gets much slimier than orange peels. People were slipping so much that several cities, including St. Louis, adopted specific "no banana peel tossing" ordnances, and the Boy Scouts organized members to pick up the peels. In NY, civic-minded groups began placing trash barrels on street corners - one of the main predecessors of today's metropolitan disposal systems.

Now you know!
posted by soulbarn at 12:41 PM on June 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


I tend to just throw organic matter away. I'll throw banana peels, apple cores, chicken bones, etc. on the ground

Wait, are you saying you don't consider these items to be organic matter? *boggle*
posted by kindall at 12:41 PM on June 6, 2006


Is throwing away organic matter littering? Yes.
Litter = Carelessly discarded refuse.
Just because it can decompose does not mean it is not litter. After all the rest of us get to see your rotting discard.
I have a friend and he pitches his filterless cig butts off my deck, and he says "it's organic and harmless". However i do not want to see them or have my neighbours see him flicking them into there yard.
No respect.
posted by blink_left at 12:48 PM on June 6, 2006


In all seriousness: if your logic is that it will break down and help the environment, do you do the same thing with your feces? It too makes a great fertilizer.

Different things are acceptable to different groups, and generally the rule in one area is defined by a sort of balance in the environment, which sounds very hippie-ish, I know, but even pigs will establish separate living and bathroom quarters when given the space to do so. Those banana peels aren't native to my spot in the world, so their decay will attract and feed bugs which previously existed at lower levels because the banana peels weren't there to feed them and help them breed. Now, in addition to the bad smell, I've got fruit flies and maggots existing naturally steps from where kids play (e.g. insert whatever life process you want there). The whole perception of the place is changed as a result. Conversely I'm sure you could find plenty of animals that'd have no problem downing an apple core around here.

Now take this into where people live. In cities and suburbia the focus over the past 200 years has been on improving sanitation to increase life expectancy primarily through a decrease in the materials communicable diseases are reliant on, like vectors such as "bottom feeders" or those who find the smell of decaying matter attractive. That is the balance that exists today. So proper disposal is necessary to maintain that balance, via city sanitation or "contained composting" where the refuse is in a managed micro-environment. Whether this balance is sustainable over the long term is a whole different question which we're all rather interested in at the moment, but that is another question entirely. :-)
posted by jwells at 12:49 PM on June 6, 2006


To throw food debris on the ground in a city is to feed vermin, most especially rats.
posted by y2karl at 1:00 PM on June 6, 2006


You could carry this to a logical extreme by suggesting that people need not pick up after their dogs, since the feces is biodegradable. Not cool. Not sanitary. Not legal.

I pick up after my dogs when I walk them. I wish there was less litter -- organic or otherwise -- along the streets, sidewalks, and yes, in the bushes alongside where we walk.

Why not carry a bag with you -- yes, like I do, with my dogs -- then put your banana peel in the bag and take it to an appropriate compost pile?
posted by Robert Angelo at 1:02 PM on June 6, 2006


I agree with everyone that says it's litter and morally wrong. I don't care whether your used banana peel is organic or not, if I see it on the sidewalk as I'm walking down the street it's trash, plain and simple, and your nasty trash belongs in a garbage can, not on a public walkway.

And chicken bones? Are you kidding me? That's even worse. Not to mention the "bad for dogs" issue, if I was walking down the street and came upon a gross piece of chicken carcass with a trail of ants and other vermin picking it apart, I'm not going to appreciate that it's "organic matter" or not, I'm just going to be grossed out and pissed off at the inconsideration displayed by whoever left it.

You can make an argument that it's okay as long as you conceal it or toss it in an area where someone won't see it or whatever, but if you're going to do that why not just put it where it belongs, in the garbage can? This whole thread reads like trying to justify extreme laziness.
posted by Rhomboid at 1:12 PM on June 6, 2006


As pointed out, it seems that there are reasonable times to do this - like with an apple core behind a bush on an infrequently used trail.

But if we are trying for one simple rule, then the rule is NO, it's not OK to just toss any waste, organic or not, just anywhere.

You start looking for logical exceptions, then you're inviting violation. I thought I've been fairly thoughtful, but I didn't know about orange peels.

So the only reasonable rule is NO.
posted by Artful Codger at 1:18 PM on June 6, 2006


Eh. I guess the question is whether you feel that everyone should do it. I toss apple cores (and plum cores and pears, etc.) without a second thought in rural areas (or highways). Banana skins not so much, and not orange peels (partially because I like the smell of orange peels so I keep 'em in my car). No meats, no weird vegetables (though the ass end of a carrot might be fine every now and then), but only in areas where nature is likely to take care of them without any interference in anyone else's life. The arguments against that bring up feces are off-point, as there's no disease risk (really) from an apple core on the side of the road.
As with many things, it's a sliding scale and you kinda have to use your own judgement...
posted by klangklangston at 1:27 PM on June 6, 2006


While I agree with you in principle, if everyone followed this guideline, we'd be up to our necks.

Also consider that most food-remnant-based garbage is the kind of stuff that rots and smells, as opposed to, say, a paper cup. Not only should people not have to smell your rotten banana peels etc., but the vermin issue mentioned above is very real.

Instead of thinking of it from a purely ecological point of view (which clearly has its own points of contention, as above) try to consider the question through the eyes of a member of any functional, civilized community. Do you want to live in a community that is full of litter? If you choose to litter discriminatingly, will people who come across your leavings understand your logic, or will they take them as license to litter less discriminatingly? Garbage in the streets, of any kind, sets a tone in a community that people don't care about their surroundings. Though your intentions may be better, is that something you want to contribute to? And if so, are you willing to defend that position if confronted by a fellow citizen?
posted by hermitosis at 1:31 PM on June 6, 2006


I don't want to live in a simple world and trying to avoid thinking by having black or white answers about what are really much more complex situations seems more like laziness to me. Nobody in this thread is suggesting casually throwing organic matter in the street or walkways or homes and gardens is a good thing, so protesting that here seems irrelevant.

Maybe someone could explain to me why throwing an apple core into bushes in open country, for example, somewhere it's highly likely nobody will ever see it again, is worse than putting it in a plastic bag in a trash can that ends up in a land-fill? To my admittedly uneducated mind, it does no harm to the local fauna and flora, and maybe even helps them in a tiny way.

Nobody seems to have attempted to answer the original question yet (myself included) and I am also interested in the answer.
posted by normy at 1:41 PM on June 6, 2006


(a) Because it may not be indigenous and may therefore cause more trouble than you think.

(b) Because if you can get there, so can other people and it is not exposing other people to grossness you caused that is at the root of not littering.

(c) That's a false choice. Many people are saying if it is important to you that it not got into a land fill, you can compost it on your own property.
posted by dame at 1:54 PM on June 6, 2006


If a raccoon can defecate outside, you can probably throw a banana peel out your window.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 1:58 PM on June 6, 2006


Also:

The steady trickle of food waste from all the other people who share your behaviour may attract wild animals which may represent either a nuisance (rats/mice) or a danger (raccoons, coyote, moose). There's a reason you don't keep waste on your campsite in bear country.

I live in a city that has coyote, deer, moose, cougar and bear drift into it from time to time. That's not a positive experience for the people who interact with those animals (moose will kill in mating season, and a moose through a windshield will kill everyone in the front seat, cougars don't kill thier prey quickly, etc.) or the animals themselves (tranquilized, tagged and relocated to a distant/unfamiliar habitat or hit by motor vehicles).

Doing anything to attract wildlife to urban areas is irresponsible.
posted by Crosius at 2:03 PM on June 6, 2006


I'm on the side of litter: Take only pictures, leave only footsteps.

normy writes "Maybe someone could explain to me why throwing an apple core into bushes in open country, for example, somewhere it's highly likely nobody will ever see it again,"

As a photographer that 1 in whatever chance of someone seeing it seems to bite me all the time. It ticks me off to no end to stop to take a picture and have to spend 20 minutes cleaning three years worth of organic litter in assorted stages of decomp. You packed it in what's the big deal about packing it out.

As for tossing it out of a car window: your driving a car! A device specifically desgined for transporting things from one place to another. What's the pain of keeping it around until your next stop?
posted by Mitheral at 2:21 PM on June 6, 2006


(a) Because it may not be indigenous and may therefore cause more trouble than you think.

Point taken. I'm not a biologist. What evidence is there that this is a frequently harmful problem and are there some environment types more affected than others?

Because if you can get there, so can other people and it is not exposing other people to grossness you caused that is at the root of not littering.

I'm not so sure. Certainly, in populated and trafficked places, I completely agree. Around here, however, people hardly ever get out of their cars, never mind walk or bicycle. If that hypothetical apple core is ten miles from the nearest town and thirty yards away from the road in the scrub where nobody ever walks, what's the grossness? Hereabouts, grossness comes in the form of roadkill.

(c) That's a false choice. Many people are saying if it is important to you that it not got into a land fill, you can compost it on your own property.

But, I would guess, the vast majority don't or can't compost, and therefore their organic waste will end up in the land-fill. I also doubt many take their organic waste home to compost when there is a trash can at the next truck-stop.

I'm not trying to be deliberately difficult for the sake of it, I just suspect there's much more complexity to these ideas than is suggested by many answers here and that there's a spectrum of harm, from none to much.
posted by normy at 2:24 PM on June 6, 2006


Maybe someone could explain to me why throwing an apple core into bushes in open country, for example, somewhere it's highly likely nobody will ever see it again, is worse than putting it in a plastic bag in a trash can that ends up in a land-fill? To my admittedly uneducated mind, it does no harm to the local fauna and flora, and maybe even helps them in a tiny way.

Nobody seems to have attempted to answer the original question yet (myself included) and I am also interested in the answer.


The "orginal question" didn't say anything about being in open country. It just said "into the bushes". I pictured this as happening at the apartment building at the end of my block, where trash -- ranging from broken bottles to food waste to dirty diapers! -- appears on the sidewalk, in the parking lot, and in and under the bushes growing there.
posted by Robert Angelo at 2:31 PM on June 6, 2006


Answer to the original question:

Put it in a worm bin.

If you live in Seattle, put it in your yard waste bin (with other non-meat, non-oily food waste).

If you have access to a compost bin that is safe from rats and other vermin, such as a Green Cone, you can put it in that.

If you can bury it at least 8 inches deep, you can do that.

Otherwise, it's trash.
posted by Araucaria at 2:48 PM on June 6, 2006


... l left unsaid why it's trash:

It attracts rats and flies and other undesirable organisms if you leave it out in the open. Yes, it may be organic, but so is feces, and you aren't allowed to let that decompose under a bush.
posted by Araucaria at 2:50 PM on June 6, 2006


I can't answer, instead you have the above discussion. But I'd like to add that in the environmentally-friendly early 1970s, we would justify organic littering by saying "It's Bio!" when tossing a core or peel out the window. But the cop writing out the ticket for littering didn't care what was defenestrated. They probably still don't.
posted by Rash at 3:01 PM on June 6, 2006


Just got back from a 55 mile bike ride (we rode past the Lindbergh house in Hopewell, NJ) and we chucked our banana peels in the woods by the side of the road. The Indian did not cry.
posted by fixedgear at 3:11 PM on June 6, 2006


People don't want to come across your rotting organic matter, which to me is the crux of the matter.

For me too, this is the heart of the issue. A lot of stuff is biodegradable, but that doesn't mean it's going to be pleasant to look at while it's biodegrading.

Some time ago, I was eating on a bench near a small park here in NYC, and dropped a bagel onto the ground. I shrugged and said 'A dog will get it.' My city-raised girlfriend said 'Unless the dog is a rat.' I picked it up.

My reasoning is, that it's going to break down and help the environment, whereas it will just go into a landfill if I throw it in the garbage.

This reasoning, as far as it goes, is wrong. It can 'break down and help the environment' in a landfill just as well. The bushes do not need 'help' from your apple core.
posted by bingo at 3:53 PM on June 6, 2006


I run into this kind of trash all of the time when I'm in the mountains, on a trial, in the middle of nowhere. I don't like it and I wish people would just pack their stuff out. Yes, it is littering.
posted by treeshade at 4:14 PM on June 6, 2006



(a) Because it may not be indigenous and may therefore cause more trouble than you think.


Patrickje is in North America. No apples are native to North America. There wasn't widespread ecological devastation caused by people deliberately planting apple trees all over this continent, why would an accidental one be a disaster?

As for rotting meat, or feces, or vegetable matter, as long as you are not near a well travelled trail or camping area I can't imagine them being a real issue. Animals die, and take a dump, and plants die, all the time in the woods.

If not the woods, where does a bear shit?
posted by Megafly at 4:24 PM on June 6, 2006


Point taken. I'm not a biologist. What evidence is there that this is a frequently harmful problem and are there some environment types more affected than others?

It's certainly a problem in marine environments with seafood and seafood-related debris, but that's not really what we're talking about.

My husband (who studies invasives for USDA-APHIS) says that if a fruit or vegetable manages to make it into the country, it's not going to matter where you throw it away.

That's just from the perspective of "preventing invasive species" though. Everyone else has pretty much covered both sides of the issue from other perspectives.
posted by nekton at 4:41 PM on June 6, 2006


I vote on the side of littering too, legally.

A interesting story from some time I spent in Amsterdam: The taxi driver taking my mother and I to the airport was eating an apple and freely chucked the core out of the car on a highway and claimed it was "for the birds."

The law and your personal morals are going to just have to come to a compromise on this. I have a feeling that any cop is just going to be pissed and write you a ticket.
posted by sperose at 4:59 PM on June 6, 2006


I think that what the law says in this case is pretty much irrelevent, it's very rude to throw your rubbish (whatever form it might take) away anywhere that isn't on your own property or in a bin. You see, it's not your world, it's our world.

Put your rubbish in a bin. If you're not near a bin, put it in your pocket or bag until you are.
posted by The Monkey at 5:39 PM on June 6, 2006


The burying idea is interesting -- my brother is an avid camper and always takes his "shit trowel" with him, for example. Are there positive or negative aspects of burying one's apple core in the bushes?

It would be kind of amusing to carry a trowel around town...
posted by obliquicity at 7:03 PM on June 6, 2006


some one ought to explain to those animals and plants dying and taking shits out in the middle of no where that its wrong. so very wrong.

however, if you're in the city/suburbs use a trash can. supporting vermin isn't nice. Its spreads disease. Also, feral cats feed on said vermin and they are a problem all their own.
posted by Tryptophan-5ht at 2:35 AM on June 7, 2006


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