I think almost universally, it is socially acceptable for smokers to dispose of their cigarette butts wherever they please. Sure, there are some people who dislike it, but generally it is better that smokers dispose of the lit cigarette butt in the street than it is for them to toss it in a trash can where a fire could start.
Also, at stadiums for major sporting events in the U.S. it appears to be okay not to clean up any mess that you have made. Spilled your popcorn all over the place? It’s fine! (I’m sure that the stadium crew doesn’t think it’s fine, but for some reason Americans think that this is totally okay.)
In Korea, however, if you go to watch a baseball game, everyone in the stadium makes a real effort to get all of their garbage and throw it away before they leave.
So, you would think the conclusion would be that Koreans are clean and Americans are dirty. But in fact, this is not at all the case. We are equally dirty, just in different areas.The reason I am writing about this is because it appears that everywhere else other than in stadiums, it seems to be perfectly okay to litter anywhere you want to. A lot of this has to do with the lack of public trash cans. (The reason being that since you have to pay for your house trash by volume, thrifty people could simply take their waste to one of these public trash cans, and if everyone does that then they aren’t available to anyone else.) This became painfully apparent over the last Chuseok holiday where I went to Everland and Carribean Bay (amusement parks). Everland and Carribean Bay have trash cans everywhere, but people would still throw their empty soda cans, cotton candy sticks, and other garbage in the bushes, one the ground, and everywhere else convenient. And rather than kids being scolded by their parents for littering, it was the parents telling their kids to litter.
Now a disclaimer, by no means does this mean that all Koreans think it is okay to litter. People who litter are going to litter, but the casual litterers (American stadium goers, Korean amusement park goers) seem to have different mentalities about where it is acceptable to be lazy about one’s garbage.
Reader Roboseyo points out that in the U.S. (and presumably Canada aslo) it took quite a concentrated effort in order to change people’s minds about littering. He cites the now famous crying Indian PSA. (Actually it is a crying Sicilian-American posing as an Indian PSA, but Iron Eyes Cody, despite his DNA was everyone’s idea of a plains Indian, and did a pretty good job of assimilating, to the point that several tribes have recognized him as one of their own.)