In praise of volunteers

Many people think that “it’s the council’s job” to clear up litter. In some ways it is. Councils have legal responsibilities for keeping certain areas clean within their territory. Councils do not, however, have responsibility for cleaning up all areas e.g. private land.

But it is a consequence of economic reality that a council has to work to a financial budget and cannot possibly keep every corner of their patch spotless every day of the year. In fact I wonder what it would add to our council tax bills if councils were suddenly tasked with such a demanding objective. The answer, I am sure, is more than most of us would be happy to pay.

I am not saying that no council in the UK could do better. Different councils have different priorities, generally set by the elected councillors. Some spend more than expected on street cleaning, some spend less than perhaps they should.

But what I am saying is that the growing army of volunteers, who give up their spare time to collect litter, are doing a job that is vital to the appearance of our neighbourhoods. It is not only vital from a visual, aesthetic point of view – it also has other effects that are crucial to the vibrancy and health of our communities. Litter-picking is a healthy outdoor activity and a great opportunity for social interaction. Many volunteer groups that I know have great fun together, not only while they are picking up litter but also when they share a pint or a barbecue afterwards. Such groups are often central to the life of a community.

There are all kinds of other issues in play, here, of course. The prevention of people dropping litter in the first place, the need to educate young people not to litter, the link between litter and crime and the idea that we should all take responsibility in some way for the environment we live in. I’ll talk about those issues in due course.

But, as my friend Rob the Rubbish says : if litter is there on the ground spoiling the appearance of wherever you are, what’s the sense in leaving it there ? Isn’t it just better to pick it up ?

One thing is certain – without the contribution of so many volunteers, our “green and pleasant land” would be even more multi-coloured and grotty than it sometimes is.

So – three cheers for volunteers and here’s to many more !

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