Bin and gone

As if there aren’t already enough challenges facing those of us who are trying to tackle the problem of litter, a new threat has transpired.

Before I disclose what it is, I wonder what suggestions you would come up with if I asked you to think of some developments that would make the campaign against litter even more difficult.

Perhaps you would point out that there is already such a development in the form of the universal spending cuts which are, without much doubt, going to mean fewer street-sweepers in action and less frequent cleaning of our streets.

Or would you focus on the likely reduction in enforcement officers – those (in my view) courageous people who often risk serious physical violence as they go about their job of fining those people they see littering ? And if you think I am scare-mongering, that is exactly what happened to an enforcement officer in Waltham Cross recently – he was attacked by a 28-year-old woman as he went about issuing her with a £75 fine for littering.

You might even be a bit more creative in your ideas for what can make the anti-litter struggle even more of a challenge and suggest the possibility of the government relaxing the litter laws (unlikely but not impossible); or health and safety considerations meaning that picking up litter is subjected to even more stringent controls (that is already effectively the case in some local authority areas); or a sudden change in people’s behaviour meaning that even more litter is dropped; or the appearance of a new type of packaging or a new fast food item that meant more or more durable litter was dropped.

Well, actually, the answer is none of the above. In many ways, it is a lot more worrying. Now you may have heard in recent years of cast iron drain covers disappearing from our streets, stolen (it is alleged) to feed a craving for the metal from certain Asian countries. You may also have heard about the exceedingly worrying pilfering of copper, especially from the signalling and safety systems on railways, driven, no doubt, by the high world copper price.

The latest craze now seems to be – and I can hardly believe I am saying this – the theft of litter bins for their scrap metal value. This outbreak of mindless criminality has, apparently, hit West Yorkshire : Bradford has had 17 bins stolen and the Kirklees Council area a massive 72 bins at £220 a go. This is not only causing huge inconvenience and considerable financial loss to the local authorities concerned, but is not helping in the slightest in the effort to persuade litterers to put their rubbish in the bin. As Keep Britain Tidy’s research shows, one of the main motivations that cause people to litter is that there aren’t enough bins around the place. If the bins that there are are in danger of being stolen, then the local authority might be forgiven for feeling a bit like Sisyphus from Greek mythology who was condemned for eternity to roll a huge boulder up a hill only to find that, each time he was in reach of the summit, the rock escaped his grasp and rolled all the way back down to the bottom and he had to start all over again.

We might think that local authorities’ efforts to contain the litter problem are Sisyphean enough at it is – let us hope that disappearing litter bins aren’t going to make local authorities’ task terminally impossible. And if you see anyone removing a litter bin, please be on your guard – the bloke cunningly wearing a fluorescent vest may not be a council employee at all.

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