In maritime contexts there is a specific difference between flotsam and jetsam i.e. both are drifting materials that have come from a ship but flotsam has been washed overboard while jetsam has been jettisoned or thrown overboard. However, when we are on land items dropped to the ground seem to be simply referred to as litter regardless of the intent of the discarding party - I have even heard a tale of someone being approached as they left a cashpoint (or ATM) and asked if some cash they had dropped was theirs and on answering yes being fined more than that amount for littering.

I am looking for a word or phrase that distinguishes between litter that has been discarded intentionally and items dropped accidentally.


To add to the similarity to flotsam we have a situation locally where people correctly sorted their recycling and placed the containers (bags in our area) out for collection on the evening before collection was due but unfortunately it was the proverbial dark & stormy night so the area is now littered with wind scattered former recycling. This is the sort of situation that I would really like a concise description for.

  • This website (Ventura County Public Works Dept) calls it "accidental' and "unintentional" litter...still looking for other words. Commented Mar 15, 2021 at 17:58
  • 1
    I think that story about someone being fined for littering after dropping cash near an ATM is an "urban myth". Made me smile though! :) Commented Mar 15, 2021 at 18:08
  • @FumbleFingers: express.co.uk/news/uk/106719/Fined-50-for-dropping-a-tenner makes interesting reading of course just because it is in a newspaper doesn't ensure it is accurate! Commented Mar 15, 2021 at 21:09
  • @SteveBarnes - I wouldn't use the Express to wipe my arse. I wouldn't want to insult that part of my anatomy. Commented Mar 15, 2021 at 22:41
  • It looks like a couple of cops alerted the guy when he dropped a tenner and a receipt on the pavement outside a shop - but initially he left the receipt when picking up his note, so they had to explicitly tell him to pick that up too. Perhaps told the cops he didn't want the receipt, and they told him that in that case he must put it in a nearby litter bin. But the stupid idiot chucked it on the ground instead, thinking the cops had moved on and weren't watching him! Commented Mar 16, 2021 at 11:51

3 Answers 3


"accidental" or "unintentional" litter

Those seem to be the most prevalent terms for describing such litter. I cannot find litter-specific words to compare with flotsam and jetsam.

For public area recycling and refuse, the accidental litter problem is also addressed through changes to container design.

Ventura Public Works Dept.

In addition to intentional littering, almost half of litter on U.S. roadways is now accidental or unintentional litter, usually debris that falls off improperly secured trash, recycling collection vehicles and pickup trucks


This means that Fixed Penalty Notices (FPN) must not be issued for accidental littering – eg if something falls out of a pocket – and that the offender should be given the chance to pick up the litter before an FPN is issued.

Keep Britain tidy

Intentional littering is a behavioral choice based on apathy, lack of social pressure to do the right thing, ignorance of the law and an absence of realistic penalties or consistent enforcement, or it is a social rebellion and a disregard of authority. People who litter represent a variety of social economic backgrounds.

Unintentional littering can result from unsecured vehicle loads and overflowing trash containers and dumpsters.



If you want to make it very obvious, I think you just need to use two words, like intentional litter and accidental litter.

Otherwise, leavings or leftovers might come with a little intentionality baked-in, but only a little. I think it might be too fine a hair to try and split reliably.


Perhaps strewn (untidily scattered) is applicable.

For example after a stormy night, the recycling was strewn all over the street.

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