Definition of litter in US English:



  • 1Trash, such as paper, cans, and bottles, that is left lying in an open or public place.

    ‘fines for dropping litter’
    • ‘Last week the town council passed a motion to spend a day picking up litter around the town.’
    • ‘Anyone caught dropping litter in Manchester is liable to the £50 fine.’
    • ‘Even at 9am the town centre doesn't appear to have had the industrial cleaners cleaning up from the previous day's rubbish and litter, and so it goes on.’
    • ‘Every time the bridge opens, any litter dropped on the deck will automatically roll into special traps.’
    • ‘If I throw litter in my town, I am saying I do not care whether it is dirty.’
    • ‘Remember all people caught dropping litter will be fined on the spot.’
    • ‘From April 1, anyone over the age of 10 caught dropping litter could face a fine under the 1990 Environment Protection Act.’
    • ‘However, he admitted chewing gum litter was a nationwide problem.’
    • ‘In addition to rubbish collection and street sweeping, they clear litter from the open spaces in twelve of the council's estates.’
    • ‘Unless we catch them throwing a bottle or dropping litter all we can do is ask them to leave.’
    • ‘Money galore can be pumped into cleanliness but you cannot stop Joe Public from undoing all the hard work by dropping litter or dumping rubbish.’
    • ‘The council introduced on-the-spot £50 fines for people dropping litter on the streets.’
    • ‘We are not going to stop people putting litter on the ground.’
    • ‘Be a bit more eco-friendly and leave less litter around the place.’
    • ‘They removed an estimated 700 pounds of litter and other rubbish.’
    • ‘This new council administration which took over following the last election claims to be the party who will clean the borough up and get tough on the general public who drop litter in our streets.’
    • ‘And it will become an offence to drop litter anywhere, not just on public land as has been the case until now.’
    • ‘Certainly the public has the primary responsibility not to drop litter and efforts can be intensified to clean up littered areas.’
    • ‘Members of the public are also entitled to make complaints against pedestrians discarding rubbish and against those discarding papers or other litter from cars.’
    • ‘We all can put an end to litter in Kerry by simply disposing of rubbish in our bin and not leaving or throwing litter in a public place.’
    rubbish, refuse, junk, waste, debris, odds and ends, scraps, leavings, fragments, detritus, flotsam, discarded matter, dross, muck
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    1. 1.1in singular An untidy collection of things lying about.
      ‘a litter of sleeping bags on the floor’
      • ‘We rose the next morning to a litter of downed branches and crooked trunks.’
      • ‘But for today's students, it is not long before the celebrations turn to dread - and the congratulations cards are replaced by a litter of repayment demands.’
      clutter, jumble, muddle, mess, tangle, heap, disorder, untidiness, confusion, hotchpotch, disarray, disorganization, disarrangement, turmoil
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  • 2The group of young animals born to an animal at one time.

    ‘a litter of five kittens’
    • ‘The leopard cat got over her loneliness long enough to produce a litter of kittens.’
    • ‘Almost weekly she arrives at work to find a litter of puppies left anonymously.’
    • ‘Two to five cubs are born in a litter, blind and helpless.’
    • ‘Females nurse their young, but will also nurse the young of their female relatives in the pride if litters are born close together.’
    • ‘So a litter of pups with no value is a loss because it's one less litter a champion bitch can have.’
    • ‘The number of sires per litter ranged from one to five, with 58% of all litters sired by more than one male.’
    • ‘We expected her to have a big litter because of how big she was, but we never expected it to be 12.’
    • ‘High juvenile mortality often leads to conception of a second litter of offspring, born from December to April.’
    • ‘The age of gingival emergence was determined by closely spaced (approximately every other day) repeated observations of 14 young from three litters.’
    • ‘They'd had a litter of pups recently but sadly deserted them.’
    • ‘Again, to take into account repeated sampling of different litters born to the same mother in the same territory, I used the mothers nested to the territory as random terms in the analysis.’
    • ‘Individual litters of cubs can have up to four different fathers.’
    • ‘Twenty litters were obtained, born within a 5-day span.’
    • ‘Of the 169 litters born during the study period, 73 failed to produce any offspring to weaning.’
    • ‘They already had produced two litters of kittens before between them both.’
    • ‘These were very unusual as they were all white in colour, but alas the mother of the litter died and Jimmy is looking for a foster mother.’
    • ‘Over the 3-year study period, we captured young from 37 litters.’
    • ‘Females produce one litter a year, numbering from one to six kits and averaging four or five; they live for 10 to 13 years in the wild.’
    • ‘As he walks again, he sees Collie and a litter of puppies.’
    • ‘They are apparently social, with young sometimes remaining with the parents while subsequent litters are born and raised.’
    brood, family
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  • 3Absorbent material, typically in granular form, used to line a shallow receptacle in which a cat can urinate and defecate when indoors.

    • ‘They can selectively attract and soak up liquids and gases at the molecular level, making them useful in products from cat litter to water treatment.’
    • ‘Many laboratories use absorbent cat litter for immediate control of spills.’
    • ‘Do you buy more than 50 pounds of cat litter a month?’
    • ‘If you are invited please bring cat litter, a bag of chips and your hockey stick.’
    • ‘I'm sure for a while I'll be finding her fur matted to my socks or bits of cat litter in the corners of the kitchen.’
    • ‘Don't flush paper towels, feminine sanitary products and other slow-to-degrade materials, like cat litter, in the toilet.’
    • ‘Scents are now worked into many products besides perfumes; they are in air fresheners, deodorisers, cosmetic products, tissues, washing powders, detergents and cat litter.’
    • ‘And you do wonder - especially when Adam overturns a tray of cat litter on his spouse - why did these people ever get married?’
    • ‘In south Wales, for instance, it operates an imaginative scheme with a local cattery, whereby unwanted books are shredded for use as cat litter.’
    • ‘Does anyone know of a cheap alternative to odour-free cat litter?’
    • ‘Avoid changing cat litter and eating raw and poorly cooked meat during pregnancy.’
    • ‘In other news: tonight I caved and bought the expensive cat litter.’
    • ‘Just let me go stock up on livestock and cat litter.’
    • ‘If you go into a supermarket today you will probably find the brand as toothpaste, liquid laundry soap, cat litter, dental care gum and a deodorant/antiperspirant.’
    • ‘Porcelain commodes and cat litter are among the substances setting off radiation alarms designed to sniff out nuclear terror at ports and border crossings.’
    • ‘All equipment, food, cat litter and costs are met by the branch.’
    • ‘I'm told I also need a shovel, cat litter, energy bars, extra water, wool socks, and hand warmers.’
    • ‘I changed the box, as I said I would, and then had to run off to buy cat litter - the folks were out.’
    • ‘I told my parents and friends that I must have got the infection from cleaning my cat litter.’
    • ‘I don't find the image of a woman digging through cat litter for a dropped pill amusing.’
  • 4Straw or other plant matter used as bedding for animals.

    • ‘In either case, the amount of manure or used litter accumulated over a year's time is quite surprising.’
    • ‘In most cases, dilution of the manure with litter means that a higher application rate can be used than for cage layer manure.’
    • ‘Burn the straw litter from infected herds or allow long term manuring [greater than 1 year] to occur before spreading it onto land used to produce food for animal consumption.’
    • ‘Apply baits after floor litter and manure have been removed.’
    • ‘Larvae cluster in dark corners under manure or litter, under feed sacks or under feed in feed storage areas.’
    animal bedding, bedding, straw, floor covering
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    1. 4.1 Decomposing but recognizable leaves and other debris forming a layer on top of the soil, especially in forests.
      • ‘Today many primitive snakes live in soil or leaf litter.’
      • ‘The foresters, therefore, clear the forest floor of excessive leaf litter and any debris of recent timber extraction operation.’
      • ‘The chemical properties of plant litter and exudates strongly influence many chemical properties of soils that are critical to ecosystem functioning.’
      • ‘The fifth molt produces winged adults that spend the winter buried in plant litter.’
      • ‘Plants in all three plots were initially free of leaf litter cover.’
      • ‘The wood resin could easily come from leaf litter and forest floor debris, he said.’
      • ‘Other types, also harmless, live in soil and leaf litter and are important decomposers.’
      • ‘Good gardening practice would be to leave a layer of leaf litter on the soil between shrubs and trees in garden beds.’
      • ‘The relatively low-quality plant litter mineralizes nitrogen at a slower rate than would occur in the absence of herbivory.’
      • ‘Removing plant litter in spring and fall will help maintain the long life of your natural pool.’
      • ‘At both sites, the quantity of plant litter was decreased by herbivory following a vole population peak in 1992.’
      • ‘Biologists found that the holes where plants had been dug were carefully refilled with soil and covered over again with leaf litter so that no one would be the wiser.’
      • ‘All three species use the digging technique of jumping backward off of both feet at the same time, which really stirs up the soil, leaf litter, or grass.’
      • ‘Pesticides may adsorb onto plant materials such as litter in no-till or minimum-till fields, the bark of trees, or thatch in turf.’
      • ‘Many ortheziids, as they are known, live in soil or leaf litter and feed on fungi, lichens, mosses, and plant roots.’
      • ‘Figure 4 shows cover, including mosses and lichens, with and without plant litter and with and without cultivars.’
      • ‘It has also been isolated from plant litter and seeds.’
      • ‘In all but one case, permits did not specify whether or not standing dead plants or plant litter should be included in estimates of cover.’
      • ‘We want the ground between plants to be covered with decaying plant litter.’
      • ‘The three environmental factors of leaf litter cover, herbivory, and substrate were studied.’
  • 5historical A vehicle containing a bed or seat enclosed by curtains and carried on men's shoulders or by animals.

    • ‘Large judicial minkisi such as Mangaaka were treated as though they were chiefs, even carried in litters, and therefore sometimes wear miniature ngongi as earrings, a mnemonic of the respect due them.’
    • ‘Gloucester, reporting ‘a plot of death’ against the King, arranges for him to be carried in a litter to Dover.’
    • ‘Liveried slaves carried the litter of a wealthy man, and vanished with a wave of his hand after he descended.’
    • ‘Panting, I fleetingly envied a couple being carried on litters like lords, an expensive yet terrifying (what if a porter slipped?) option.’
    • ‘He was carried about on a litter and coached soccer.’
    sedan chair, palanquin
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    1. 5.1 A framework with a couch for transporting sick or wounded people.
      • ‘The cabin provides accommodation for 11 fully equipped troops or four litters (stretcher patients) with a medical officer for medical evacuation missions.’
      • ‘In the medical evacuation role, the aircraft can transport 24 litters (stretcher patients) and four medical crew.’
      • ‘The aircraft provided a stable platform with ample room for around 70 litters (stretcher beds) and specialist medical teams to carry out life-saving work.’
      • ‘Progress became impossible, and the little band of survivors, carrying their injured on litters, struggled into the jungle for relief from the rain.’
      • ‘The gantries can be stowed in two positions so the cabin can be configured for ten crashworthy seats or six litters.’
      • ‘Each evening Navy corpsmen would carry litters down to the hospital theater so the men could watch a movie.’
      • ‘In a medical evacuation role the helicopter can carry three medical crew and six litters or stretcher patients.’
      • ‘In the medical evacuation role, the aircraft can carry 24 casualties on litters and four medical attendants.’
      • ‘Evacuation vehicles must provide adequate room between litters to allow on-board medical crew personnel sufficient room to provide enroute care.’


[with object]
  • 1Make (a place) untidy with rubbish or a large number of objects left lying about.

    ‘clothes and newspapers littered the floor’
    • ‘Rather than play down the danger, he happily reported that the entire area is littered with countless land mines.’
    • ‘The entire area was also littered with beer cans and chip boxes.’
    • ‘The surrounding area was littered with unexploded ammunition.’
    • ‘The pavements are littered with the corpses of good men who've tried.’
    • ‘Because the runway was littered with wreckage, the patient's plane was forced to land in a field.’
    • ‘He started the cultivation scheme five years ago to beautify a street often littered with trash.’
    • ‘The houses were run-down, with peeling paint and broken windows, the glass still littering the ground.’
    • ‘The paint was faded and stained; the fixtures were covered with dust; the floor was littered with trash.’
    • ‘Discarded clothes and old newspapers covered the bed; dirty plates and empty bottles littered the floor.’
    • ‘Soon the whole place was littered with clothes and magazines and cosmetics.’
    • ‘"Some of our rural roads are in terrible condition, littered with potholes.’
    • ‘The Devon landscape is now littered with foot and mouth warning signs and straw mats soaked in disinfectant.’
    • ‘Soon enough we came to a block littered with rubble and abandoned houses.’
    • ‘The gullies are littered with wreckage from vessels that have had their bellies ripped out by the pinnacle tops.’
    • ‘The place is absolutely littered with homemade bombs and land mines.’
    • ‘Pavements were littered with rubble and shattered glass.’
    • ‘The area is still littered with landmines and unexploded ordnance.’
    • ‘Dovercourt Railway Station's track has been littered with cans and rubbish.’
    • ‘Three days after the earthquake and devastating tsunami, bodies still litter the streets.’
    • ‘The whole place is littered with monuments to the useless.’
    make untidy, mess up, make a mess of, clutter up, throw into disorder, be strewn about, be scattered about, be jumbled, be disarranged
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    1. 1.1usually be littered Leave (rubbish or a number of objects) lying untidily in a place.
      ‘there was broken glass littered about’
      • ‘A tiny object compared with the size of galaxy blew through the funnel furiously, littering molten debris behind its wake.’
      • ‘Glass bottles, newspapers, food, and wrappers were littered everywhere.’
      • ‘The drains are all open and garbage is littered everywhere.’
      • ‘The subway tunnel was half-lit as garbage was littered literally everywhere.’
    2. 1.2usually be littered with Fill (a text, history, etc.) with examples of something unpleasant.
      ‘news pages have been littered with doom and gloom about company collapses’
      • ‘History, past and present, is littered with examples of all that.’
      • ‘Creation is littered with examples like this, at all kinds of levels.’
      • ‘But the figures were littered with inaccuracies.’
      • ‘Its dense rows of tabulated figures are littered with footnotes as the compilers struggle to incorporate new food knowledge into old.’
  • 2archaic Provide (a horse or other animal) with litter as bedding.


Middle English (in litter (sense 5 of the noun)): from Old French litiere, from medieval Latin lectaria, from Latin lectus ‘bed’. Sense 1 dates from the mid 18th century.