I threw some rubbish in a litter bin the other day, when it occurred to me that the receptacle couldn't be a litter bin, because litter is only unwanted things strewn across the road. Anything in a litter bin couldn't be litter, by reason of it's being in the litter bin.

Am I right, wrong, or just absurdly pedantic?

  • 2
    At least you didn't decide that you were required to put a collection of puppies in the bin. :-) Feb 14, 2011 at 14:57
  • That's like asking: why do we park in a driveway and drive on a parkway? ;-}
    – David W
    Feb 14, 2011 at 14:59
  • 1
    just put the trash in the trash, and move on.
    – Tester101
    Feb 14, 2011 at 17:53
  • 1
    Remember the old anarchist rallying cry: Refuse to be put in bins!
    – user5194
    Feb 18, 2011 at 15:52
  • 1
    Last night in London Airport/ I saw a wooden bin/ labelled UNWANTED LITERATURE / IS TO BE PLACED HEREIN./ So I wrote a poem/ and popped it in. (C Logue) Jun 11, 2011 at 22:34

4 Answers 4


A litter bin is a bin in which you can place what would otherwise become litter. As such, your objection that the stuff in it is not litter because it is in the bin is at best pedantic; I'd suggest it is at least mildly absurd to be that pedantic over it.

  • I think a better word that he was looking for is "rubbish".... you can't rubbish something but you can litter.
    – monksy
    Dec 6, 2010 at 3:55
  • Consider the history. First there was litter. Someone came up with the idea to place bins around. What to call them? You call them litter bins because that's what you want people to put in them.
    – David W
    Feb 14, 2011 at 15:03
  • 2
    One may also place what was once litter in a litter bin. That makes the waters even less clear -- the bin is there to move the litter into, but once the litter is placed in the bin it is no longer litter. Norman... coördinate...
    – bye
    Feb 18, 2011 at 9:44

Litter can also refer to a collection of trash. See definition 4b on m-w.com.


Am I right, wrong, or just absurdly pedantic?

I'm sure there are other possibilities than the three you list, Brian. But there is nothing wrong with "litter bin" as a term for a trash receptacle. The idea is that this is a place where conscientious people put litter (which presumably they gather up). Once inside the bin, however, one ought to call it trash.


Er, I agree. It is a rubbish / trash / waste / garbage bin - it may contain erstwhile litter but its contents are the aforementioned synonyms for unwanted detritus. "Litter" connotes miscellaneous, discarded items laying about and which, once picked up and placed in the bin - become mere rubbish.

The sign on the bin is not an exhortation for how we want people to behave, but a label for what the receptacle CONTAINS.

  • 1
    But if you put it straight into the bin after unwrapping your sandwich, it never has been and never will be litter... What have you done to us, Brian? Jun 17, 2011 at 13:14

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.