It is one of the most common things to occur on a golf course. You or your playing partner removes something from the ground and tosses it aside. It is a "loose impediment," but what exactly is that?
A loose impediment is defined by the USGA Rules of Golf as natural objects that include "stones, leaves, twigs, branches and anything similar but also dung, worms, insects and the like, and the casts and heaps made by them." That is simple enough, but the definition also demands those cannot be fixed or growing, embedded or stuck to the ball. But wait; there's more. Sand and loose soil are loose impediments on the putting green, but nowhere else. It is the player's choice to treat snow and ice as loose impediments or casual water, but dew and frost are off limits.
Loose Impediments in Hazards
If the ball and the loose impediment are both in a hazard, you're out of luck. Play it as it lies. Breach of this rule is two strokes. Otherwise, feel free to remove any loose impediment without penalty.