Quite rightly, the one issue designed to get the locals to polish up their pitchforks is littering. In ‘my’ village we have a green. It is a pleasant space with weeping willows, a river, a large green grassy area, a pub, and numerous benches designed to encourage community, and it serves those purposes splendidly.
Many a heavenly afternoon has been spent chewing the cud on the grass, pint in hand, as the kids run through the bridge tunnels and get wet after taking a dip. The following day however, as regular as clockwork, it all turns sour.
Facebook is awash with locals, incredulous with fury, who have taken to the social media platform to post pictures of rubbish strewn across the grass, left by the benches, and even floating on the river. “Disgusting! Why not take it home??!!??’ seems to be the blanket mantra and on the face of it, I agree.
That was until last year when I found myself on the wrong side of the community wrath. We had been to the river and had taken a picnic and some bottles of beer. As staunch environmentalists, we did, as we always do, tidy up after ourselves (as well as pick up a few random cans and bottles while we were at it), before going to put them in the litter bin. Of course, despite us paying over £200 per month for council tax, the bins were full, so we left the rubbish tied up in carrier bags next to the receptacle.
Now either the badgers or local teenagers, seemed to then take umbrage to our communal housekeeping as the ‘just take your rubbish home!’ soundbite became a deafening chant. Despite protestations that those there would not dare damage their local environment in such a way, and that we had tidied up ours and others’ messes, the contents of our rubbish were now strewn across the green and open to social media fury. I was, through my just awoken haze, about to write a comment calling those responsible ‘dogs’ until I realised it was our rubbish and instead walked, slightly the worse for wear, to the green and tidied up the mess once again.
As an isolated incident, this is not spectacular. As a fervent bike rider, I see week on week how the problem of dumping and littering is, despite us as a society being supposedly more aware of our environment, getting worse, not better.
On one ramble last week I came across two bottles full of urine, three large sofas, two complete bathroom units, hundreds of black bags, and numerous McDonald’s cartons. They have now, sadly, become a part of the landscape, and are often used as ‘markers’ or even meeting places in lieu of a local Costa or Starbucks as we plan to meet by the dumped leather three-piece sofa.
Now it’s easy to blame the mess we live in on one subset of society, be it government, councils, or poor parenting, whereas the truth is in a mixture of variables.
Want to encourage the building trade and get people back into work? Then by charging the levels we do for the disposal of waste, it pushes unscrupulous (ie, cheaper) tradespeople to dump the contents of Ms Miggins old kitchen in a layby outside Colney Heath.
Councils ramping up their taxes are also part of the problem. Weekly bin collections are now fortnightly, and the bins have, like our disposable incomes, shrunk dramatically over recent years. I find myself on a Tuesday night stabbing bags of rubbish with a branch, so the lid goes down as I am aware that they won’t take the bins if there is as much as 1 mm opening.
In addition, no doubt blamed on austerity or the go to: ‘because of Covid’, public litter bins in popular areas are collected infrequently, thus leaving folk to leave the rubbish by the bin and the above situation plays out.
A mess starts a reaction: If others see an unsavoury environment it’s as if it is acceptable and, sad to say, many teenagers are the worst culprits. I have lost count the number of times I have challenged kids who open packet and then drop them on the floor, quite often within a few yards of a bin, as their mates do nothing in the way of challenge. Now I’m not parent of the year, but my kids are hard wired to not litter so I can’t put the blame at anyone else’s door than shoddy parents.
There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to littering and dumping rubbish, but if we do not get a handle on it, we could see previously pleasant areas of idyll in the shires go the way of East London in the 1970s, which made Steptoe’s yard look like the Ritz, and we may be left with no one else to blame but the others.
Brett Ellis is a teacher