Rant of the Day - By no means updated daily

The Physics of Littering

Posted on Wednesday 18th of October 2006 08:40:56 PM by Maximinus
This afternoon, on the bus on the way home, two school girls sat in front of me, drinking some kind of drink from plastic cups (despite the fact that there's a big "No eating, drinking or smoking" sign at the front of the bus).

When one of them finished, she made a couple of hesitant attempts at throwing the cup out the window besider her.  She never actually let go of it; it was clear to me that she was a first-time offender, and didn't know how to actually go about getting these cups out of the small windows.  Her friend then encouraged her and helped her attempt to get it out the window.  Due to the speed at which the bus was moving, the position of the cup, the amount of effort expended and when it was released, this caused the cup to fly backwards - remaining in the bus - and hit me.  It then fell to the floor.

The girl whose cup it was seemed embarrassed and apologised.  I thought maybe she had realised that it might be better to just hold on to it and dispose of it properly once she got to wherever she was headed, so I picked it up and handed it back to her.  But had she actually learnt anything?  No.  She had a second attempt - evidently not having worked out a better method of ejection.  As you can probably guess, the result was similar to the first attempt, with the cup once again flying back and hitting me.  This time, I handed it back, smiling and saying "Perhaps you should just hold on to it?" - to which she gave an affirmative response.

This time, she actually held on to it - no more attempts at ejection from a moving vehicle.  I guess she doesn't have enough working knowledge of physics to be an effective bus-ejection litterbug.

When I was disembarking from the bus, I did notice that the friend appeared to have wedged her cup between two seats - alas, she hadn't learnt not to litter at all; but at least she had learnt to litter in a slightly less unacceptable, less dangerous manner.  I believe the original offender may have actually taken her cup with her - so perhaps she did indeed learn the lesson somewhat better than her friend.

If you're going to do something, do it right.  If your first attempt happens to fail, and it does so somewhat catastrophically, either reconsider the entire thing, or at least put some thought into why it went wrong and how you can make it go correctly.  I'm not saying you should litter if you can; what I am saying is that if you really must litter, at least do it properly.  Learn your physics before attempting to eject light objects with large surface areas from inside fast moving vehicles, for example.
Currently reading: Impossibility - The Limits of Science and the Science of Limits
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