Litterplugs: where the trash gets wedged

Cabel's got a great name for those odd gaps in buildings and street-furniture where people shove their garbage. He calls them "Litterplugs," and boy does he have a lot of great photos of them. We get a lot of these in London, thanks to the wide-scale removal of trash-cans.

I first noticed the “litterplugs” (if I may) phenomenon in Japan, ten years ago. This is the photo that started it all, a slightly bowing construction wall by Shinjuku station that immediately became a garbage can:

Since then, it was everywhere. Now, I can understand how generalized holes — containers, street light bases, flower pots — become makeshift trashcans. Even if they’re obviously in no way trashcans, and likely will never be emptied or cleaned by any human being on earth, and in most cases there’s a real trashcan mere feet away, they at least share a vague similarity to the raw concept of a trashcan.

Litterplugs (via Kottke)


    1. If I recall correctly, it was about terrorism fears. Afraid that someone could drop a decent sized bomb in a bin in a crowded street, and kill a lot of people. They started cutting down on the number of bins in 1993 after Bishopsgate, switched out a lot of bins for kevlar lined bins in 1999, and finally got rid of most of them after the July 7 bombings, and a failed attempt shortly after.

      Not quite as security theatre as it sounds – the IRA certainly favored bins as a hiding place for bombs during the troubles, it’s not something without a lot of precedent.

      1. There’s a related trend which is minimal bins that consist of just a top ring and lid with a clear plastic bin liner hanging underneath. So now everyone can see what disgusting thing you’ve just dropped in there. Most recently seen on Tottenham Hale railway station.

        I reckon the next development in IEDs will be small plastic bags containing exploding dog mess hung from branches and shrubs.

        1. You jest, but it was a tactic employed by the (British) Special Operations Executive in WW2 to fill dead rats with explosives and leave them around industrial complexes. The hope was that they would be collected up as trash and put in incinerators, thereby slowing down the German war machine. 

          1. Reminds me of how the Germans would sometimes plant a bomb behind a picture that was slightly askew.  Straightening it would set it off.  They knew no British officer could resist straightening it.

      2. Huh. Well, now I understand the reasoning, but damn if that’s not some of the most poorly conceived knee-jerk reactionary bollocks ever.

        Interesting also that the public response to no bins is to just shove the rubbish wherever it’ll fit.

        I was in Japan a couple of years ago, and I was surprised that while there were very few bins in the street, it was very tidy.

        Like everyone else I saw with a wrapper or an empty bottle, I put my rubbish in my backpack and disposed of it later. 

        1. When I was in London last – at least, for more than an hour, London and I have a standing disagreement where it’s London, and I don’t like being in London very much, though judging by the population, I’m the only Australian that doesn’t – I did much the same thing, jamming my rubbish in my bag.

          The friend I was walking with at the time – a native Londoner – asks me what I’m doing, and so it goes:

          “No bins around mate, so I’m just hanging on to it till I see one. Gotta be one around here somewhere.”
          “Err, why? No bins around here mate, you’ll see somewhere to chuck it, just chuck it in there, someone will sort it out.”

          I never did inquire precisely who that someone was, or why I should make disposing of my rubbish their job rather than mine, but it did become a feature of of more than one apparently amusing “Guess what that zany foreigner did/said today?” chat down the pub.

          Just one of the many reasons, I suppose, that London is a wonderful, gorgeous, historically and currently interesting marvel of a city that I despise like a bitter memory. I’ve always thought Sweeny Todd was onto something with his hole in the world, a great black pit sort of thing. And straight razor shaves, it’s good stuff. Not the pie thing though, that’s just weird.

          1. I have this theory that the English have this bipolar social culture where they’re allowed a massive entitlement complex as long as they agree to kowtow to their social superiors. It’s a sort of reverse noblesse oblige.

          2. Judging by my time living in the UK – That’s the most disturbingly accurate depiction of it I’ve ever heard. Of course, it’s not the entire story, but that part is sure as hell accurate.

        1. By that standard – ie, any security measure that can’t be circumvented by any sufficiently inventive or clever attacker being security theatre – then ALL security is security theatre, which I’m pretty sure is a vast misapplication of the term.

        1. What, they’ve done one dumb thing, so fuck them forever? That’s a pretty fucked up way of looking at things. I think you should consider toning down your rhetoric, and going for a logical approach over an emotional one. The problems can be fixed, so it’s foolish to ignore them, or to burn it to the ground. Just fix the stupid damned problem and don’t do the monumentally stupid thing of disregarding an entire country because of one small mistake.

          Remember, if countries were rendered irrelevant by single mistakes of that scale, the US wouldn’t have lasted long past independence. Think of all the stupid decisions your country has made, whichever country that is – by what you’re saying, why shouldn’t you be just left to burn?

          1. Far as I can tell, that’s exactly what’s happening. We decided to irradiate the entire population to fight underwear bombs.

            Now work on your own rhetoric.

          2. Vague reply, Weak reversal that amounts to “Nuh uh, you are.” Well, I’m sure you gave it your best effort and find that quite satisfactory, fair enough.

          3.  Frankly, I thought your intemperate and histrionic reply spoke clearly enough of your character and needed no further amendment from me. I guess that can be difficult to follow. My apologies. Buh-bye!

    2. They’ve only removed them from train/tube stations (unless they’ve done something recently that I’m unaware of).

      It’s for terrorism, because, ya know, you need a bin if you’re going to blow something up (like all reactionary policy, it’s dumb, pointless and inconvenient for everyone while achieving nothing).

    3. 18th Feb 1991 there was a bomb placed in a litter bin in Victoria station, London, UK. That morning I was considering catching the later train, I  used to have to get up at an earthly hour just to get to Custom House, where I was working. Lucky I didn’t that  would have been the train I would have been on. The bomb went off as everyone was alighting the train. I missed it by only a few minutes.

      After that attack all bins were removed on all stations and public places

    4. In addition to London tube stations, trash bins are famously elusive in Japanese cities, for reasons I am not entirely clear on.

      If litterpluggers don’t need a trash bin when they need to deposit their waste somewhere, neither does a bomber need a bin to deposit a bomb somewhere.  It seems clear enough.

  1. (Edit)
    Chicago has replaced most of it’s trash receptacles with wall mounted rings that hold transparent trash bags (at least in the subways). Seems like a better compromise between (common) litter and (rare) terrorism…

    (original response)
    In other news….
    London is removing it’s trash cans (?!?)

    lol wtf?

    1. 1. Remove cans.
      2. Increase littering fines.
      3. Hire an army of spies who can write tickets.
      4. PROFIT!

      Not a joke, by the way.

    2. Except that transparent bags as bins would in no way stop the threat of the bin being used as terrorist bomb-receptacle. Want to put a bomb in a transparent bin? Put it in a paper/plastic bag first. 

      Mind you, it’s pretty easy to just dump a bomb in a gutter using the same technique. Remember the Tokyo subway sarin attacks? Sarin bags wrapped in newspaper dropped on the subway car, hidden in plain sight.

  2. At least they’re trying not too litter. It’d be nice if people made the same effort with their gum. Look at that little stretch of pavement, how many dickheads have decided to just spit their gum onto the ground right there for someone else to tread on.
    It’s one of those things that just makes you hate all of humanity, and makes you want to move to Singapore where at least they have the sense to treat this sort of vermin with the wrath they deserve.

    1. I don’t know about anyone else but I was taught to look for a litter bin or take my rubbish home.

      As long as there are public litter bins I am all for applying litter laws much more strictly.

      Also, cigarette butts. Why do smokers think they do not count as litter?

      1. Yeah, i love casual littering by smokers.  Invariably, it’s even still lit as they toss it away. 

        Be fun to follow them home and casually take a dump in their living room.

      2. Exactly right. The only place I ignore that principle is in UK train stations, where I’ll quite happily drop rubbish on the floor. If they want to create silly policy then I’m happy to along with it.

        The cigarette butt thing is an interesting question that I’m sure must have been answered, as it’s clearly a psychological thing.

        1. You increase fares and make the place look a mess for all the other users of the station, to make a silly point.

          How selfish of you.

          1. “Trains stations and silly policy increase fares and make the place look a mess for all the other users of the station, to make a silly point.

            How selfish of you.”

          2. Incidentally it’s best not to imagine me waltzing around the place flinging litter into the air – if I have some messy rubbish that I can’t stow away in my pocket or bag then I’ll place it out of the way easy to collect. I’d go to more effort elsewhere.

            The train companies are all dicks anyway… you’re either not British or you work for a train company, because quite frankly I could take a shit in the middle of a UK train station and receive an applause.

        2. I agree.  If they have the men’s room closed I’ll take a poop on the station floor just to spite them.

          Dumping your garbage is just being thoughtless to your fellow riders.

          1. “Incidentally it’s best not to imagine me waltzing around the place flinging litter into the air – if I have some messy rubbish that I can’t stow away in my pocket or bag then I’ll place it out of the way easy to collect. I’d go to more effort elsewhere.

            The train companies are all dicks anyway… you’re either not British or you work for a train company, because quite frankly I could take a shit in the middle of a UK train station and receive an applause.” Me, just up there.

      3. Mainly because I smoke rollies which are basically (very thin) paper and some slightly charred dead plant. 
        In my mind it’s the same as dropping the stalk from an apple on the ground.  I wouldn’t do it in someone’s house, but in the street it’ll be gone next time it rains.

        1. True with rollies or an apple core it is a question of perceived ‘biodegradability’ versus perceived ‘unsightliness’ and how far one is used to mitigate the other. But the unsightliness will increase the more people think as you and discard rollies, matchsticks, apple cores, banana skins, etc. You have also to think what would happen if everyone did as I did.

          1. Vegetable refuse doesn’t really biodegrade without proper composting technique. Mostly it just sits there or is trampled into slippery sidewalk slime.

    2. Don’t apologize for the litterpluggers.  They’re just as bad as proper litterers.

      In NYC, any flat surface streetside gets this type of litter.

    3. People are incredibly lazy.  I’m always amazed that people will shove their garbage into any place they can (or just leave it) even when there is a trash can 5 feet away.  They must think the world is their maid service.  If I have the energy to bring it there I have the energy to take it with me and find a trash can.  Pack in, pack out.

      I also learned a great new word today, “litterplug”.

    4. I live in Singapore, and I’m sure that your comment would warm the charred and ashen voids that pass for the hearts of our policymakers, fortifying their conviction that regressive, petty, vindictive knee-jerk policy-making is the way to go.

      Our littering laws aren’t just draconian masturbatory fantasies which disproportionately target the poor and dispossessed – they also happen to be completely ineffective. Increased fines, sentences, social campaigns, cruel and unusual punishment – the rate of littering just vaguely wobbles about in response.

      The real reason this island hasn’t sunk beneath a mountain of trash is a vast army of transient migrant labour that’s paid and treated so poorly they might as well be slaves.

  3. Humans are such lazy, disgusting animals. Yeah, yeah, I know…”newsflash”. Seriously, how hard is it to throw your trash or recycling into an appropriate container? And I hear ya, Flashman…the gum thing blows my mind too.

    1. It seems so basic, and I say this as a slob (at home).  Didn’t anyone else watch Willie Wimple?

      Simple question: “If you don’t want it, what makes you think anyone else does?”

    2. I like it when kids drop trash in front of their parents and they don’t get made to pick it up.  Guess that is where it comes from.

      1. I told a little’n to pick up a bottle he’d dropped – his mum was clearly pissed at me, but knew there wasn’t really anything she could be annoyed about. It was a rather satisfying reaction.

        1. Pro tip: Bellow, “Ma’am! Your child dropped something!,” like you’re doing them a favor.

  4. A friend of mine is an urban planner and he’s read a couple studies on the placement and usage of trash bins in cities. Interestingly, people WANT to use trash bins in general. A city street with visible trash bins will see less litter than a comparable street without, and the mentality is simple — if someone can see a trash bin, they’ll use it. If they can’t see it — even if it’s just another block away — they won’t.

    In my neighborhood, near NYC, the street trash bins regularly fill up, and then when they overflow that’s when people litter. The city is pretty good about cleaning them out, so the overflows are rare, but it’s neat to see the principle my friend mentioned in practice — the main streets with the bins are largely litter free, while the side streets without have gutters with wrappers, plastic, and other trash.

    1. True in my experience too. I live in a (generally) very clean city, a characteristic some might not expect of it. The only thing I can attribute it to, is that there are bins pretty much everywhere. And where there aren’t bins, there is rubbish.

      Most of the rubbish actually comes from Southern Water not managing their overflow properly, but it’s OK because they can afford the fines.

  5. Gum is by far the most disgusting of commonplace litter. The streets of most cities are dark with gum, which, of course, was spat directly from someone’s juicy mouth.  Look for it on TV shows that shoot in downtowns. Is it really so hard to wait to get rid of your gum that you have to let it fly wherever you might happen to be?  Of course, it costs plenty to clean it off.  I do gum and graffiti removal and the equipment is expensive, and it is time consuming.  Two cool things about it though; when you scape the top off the filthy ‘wad’, the original color shows, then when you hit it with the steam vac, there is released in the air the faintest odor of whatever flavor the gum is/was.  Of course the knowledge that scent is the process of having tiny molecules of the substance enter your nose pretty much puts me off gum chewing.  I keep picturing minty germs. Blech.

    1. When I was in school, we used to jockey for seats on the heaters in class because it was so cold in the mornings. Assholes would put their used gum on the heaters so that it would melt onto people’s butts. We’d end up in the Home Ec room holding an ice cube on it until it hardened up enough for Mrs. McNamara to chip it off.

  6. There’s an odd bit pf physics involved:  The lower the level of fluid in a can or cup, the heavier it becomes.

    An empty soda or beer can or cup actually weighs an infintite amount and thus must be put down or dropped immediately, even if within five feet of a rubbish bin.

    People who will walk all day with a six pack in their hand cannot go five steps without dropping the empties.

  7.  Arborvitae bushes make fantastic litterplugs. My father was astonished to find about 10 years worth of my refuse when he removed the one by our front door.

  8. Just to say, in London the reason there are no litter bins at train and tube stations and some other sites is due to the supposed risk of bombings by then US-funded Irish/Northern Irish terrorists/militants. Although in some places clear plastic bags seem to suffice, so I suspect it is a financial or convenience issue – perhaps it is cheaper to expect most people to take litter with them and employ cleaners for the remaining dropped litter, rather than having frequent rubbish collections. 

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