UK street litter in Poole

What are they thinking, those litterbugs, when they drop their rubbish in the park or at the side of the road or in the river? Obviously, they aren’t thinking at all, so the rest of us will just have to do better.

In Part I of this three-part series–Oceans in Peril–I wrote about the problems of plastic and other pollutants in our rivers, lakes and oceans. Admirable though clean-up efforts are, litter on land is a massive problem too, and one that we as individuals can affect more readily.

First, we must all take responsibility for our own littering. Once you determine it’s not just against the law but unsightly and anti-social, it’s not too hard to take the next step and simply put your litter in a bin. If there’s no bin nearby, be responsible and find one.

Here’s an amazing thought: Take your litter home. Anti-litter campaigns need to be more dramatic, more hard hitting and offer both a carrot for those who comply and a stick for offenders. All the campaigns I’ve read about seem to have been designed by well-meaning bureaucrats, with wishy-washy names and calls to action. Perhaps someone with a vision will come along and hire someone as brilliant as the New York copywriter who invented the word “litterbug.”

garbage 1

The Guardian highlights the litter problem in London

The UK’s Keep Britain Tidy program has been running for years, but the litter problem keeps getting worse. Their mission is “to inspire people to eliminate litter now and for future generations…more than simply getting people to pick up litter…change behaviour permanently by spotlighting the problem daily and offering creative solutions.” Folks, I’m here to tell you, it ain’t working.

Perhaps their “Litterman” campaign isn’t strong enough. Although their “Litter Lout,” “Dog Poo Fairy” and “Dirty Pig” slogans got everyone’s attention, habits weren’t changed. “Don’t be a Tosser,” tried to stop people throwing rubbish out of the car window, but driving around the English countryside, I can see from personal experience that it is having little or no effect.

In the posh town of Poole on the south coast, we’d arranged to meet someone at their smart apartment. We got there a few minutes early, parked and had a look at the gated estate. Lawns manicured within an inch of their lives, bushes clipped, trees trimmed, just the sort of garden effort you’d expect in England. Then my eye was caught by a bright colour in the gutter. Some cretin had dumped a bag of burger refuse and a cup right on top of the double yellow no parking lines, so I assume the litter had been chucked out of their car window as they drove past the luxury estate. Was this a statement of prejudice against the class system, or was this someone simply being a “tosser.” Tosser, in case you’re not familiar with this Brit slang word, is the equivalent of “wanker,” but even  more so. The Brits do love their double-entendres, don’t they.


Roadside litter in Yorkshire

Earlier this year, I had some signs made reading “Don’t be a litterbug” and stuck them in the ground around our little Yorkshire village, wherever I found a big pile of rubbish. Then as my personal effort, I picked up and bagged all the rubbish I could and took it to the nearest Waste Recycling Centre. Within a few days all my signs had disappeared! Perhaps they were swept up by the local Council, suddenly embarrassed by their own inaction. Ouch!

If you want to use the sign yourself, please download the Litterbug PDF here, copyright free. Please send us a photo of your sign in use!

In my sign’s next incarnation, I’m going to spell “litter” as “litta” and make it rhyme with “bugga,” as in “Don’t be a litta bugga,” working in a bit of vulgar alliteration. Then we might extend to “Don’t be a litta droppa—be a litta pikka uppa!” Since we all know today’s youth can’t spell, perhaps the deliberate misspelling would appeal?

Clearly, one dog walker was offended by my campaign, as the next morning I came out to water the ornamental bush outside our cottage, to find a bag of dog poo hanging from a branch. Thanks guys.

garbage 2

This Facebook post from Meanwhile in Canada says it all

In our fair Canadian city, the uninspiringly named Clean Toronto Together annual spring cleanup took place in April this year, attracting over 200,000 residents, students and community groups to the 16th annual City-wide cleanup of public spaces. It’s a start, but keeping our environment litter-free requires much more than a one-day-a-year effort. The work of the City’s ongoing street cleaning teams has been something less than desirable, except downtown where the tourists throng.

In our own neighbourhood, Diane’s personal mission is to keep our bit of street litter free. To that end she’s out with a sweeping brush and pan most days, cleaning out the gutters, something the City has never done in the 15 years she’s lived on the street.  We appealed to our local councilor, and a street sweeping machine showed up within a few days, but that hardly solved the problem of litter wedged between parked cars. For the future, we won’t hold our breath.

Perhaps that’s what all our cities, parks and beaches (and our oceans, lakes and rivers too) need – teams of dedicated retired grannies setting an example and showing the rest of us how it should be done.

What can you do today?

  • Put all your own litter in a bin or take it home.
  • Teach children not to drop litter and set them a good example, by NEVER doing so yourself.
  • Homeowners – Sweep up in front of your own house. (Why do people think its OK to leave their empty coffee cups and beer cans in my front garden?)
  • Walkers – Pick up three items of litter when you go out for a walk. (Or even one – and then put it in the nearest bin as an example to the lazy bastard who dropped it.)
  • Dog owners – Pick up your dog poo. There is NO dog poo fairy! (And please don’t leave a little bag of poo hanging on the bush in front of my house!)
  • Smokers – Put your butts in a proper container. (Why do smokers think it’s OK to stub their butts out on my front steps?)
  • Beer drinkers – If you’re already drunk and wandering home with an open bottle or can it’s really tempting to just leave it in the gutter, but why not bin it?
  • Shoppers – Reduce food waste by only buying what you need.

In two weeks, the conclusion of this three-part series: Can community spirit make a difference?

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This is Nigel’s 255th blog on Gentleman’s Portion. The search function works really well if you want to look back and see some of our previous articles.

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