Keep Britain Tidy’s litter manifesto

Earlier in March, Keep Britain Tidy launched “This Is Our Home”, its “manifesto for a cleaner England”.

Now, you may wonder, what on earth is Keep Britain Tidy doing issuing a manifesto. It may be nearing election time, but Keep Britain Tidy isn’t a political party, is it ? No – it isn’t, but the document is an important statement of the value to us all of the areas we live in and it is no coincidence that it was launched just weeks before a general election campaign is due to start.

But why “manifesto” ? Well, if you think about the origin of the word, it combines the meanings of “hand” (the “mani” bit) and “hit” (the “festo” bit, related to our word “fend”). So the meaning of “manifesto” is something which is so blindingly obvious (or “manifest”) that it hits you on the hand.

And that is exactly what Keep Britain Tidy’s manifesto does – it makes a point that should be blindingly obvious to us all but which, amid the turmoil of our modern world, unfortunately needs making again and again.

What Keep Britain Tidy is suggesting is that we will achieve a significantly cleaner England only if we commit to the following 3 things :

• inspirational and decisive leadership

• partnership with a shared vision and clear goals

• building personal responsibility

By leadership, Keep Britain means not only that the new government (of whichever colour) must come up with a fresh approach to tackling litter and other environmental quality issues but that local authorities too must take the lead. But it doesn’t stop there. “Land managers”, those bodies responsible for managing and keeping clean the land in the public realm such as roads and railways, waterways, housing estates, farms, forests and shopping centres – must all step forward and do their bit. And, finally, manufacturers and retailers must seriously take the lead in designing as much packaging as possible out of products.

As for partnership, Keep Britain Tidy is quite right to say that we all need to work together to achieve this. It’s no use keeping the blinkers on and saying “our responsibility stops just there – thereafter it’s YOUR responsibility”. The manifesto gives the example of local authorities and Primary Care Trusts working together creatively to ensure that local areas are attractive enough for people to want to take exercise in them.

And, finally, personal responsibility. This is, in many ways, the most challenging of Keep Britain Tidy’s suggestions. This is about encouraging behaviour change in ordinary people so that, rather than dropping their litter on the ground for someone else to pick up, they make the transition to taking their rubbish home with them. We need to make it easy for people to do the right thing and so we need to ensure that there are enough litter bins in the right places and that they are emptied often enough. But, when all is said and done, we need to change people’s behaviour so that they don’t drop litter in the first place.

Keep Britain Tidy concludes that “We can only succeed together”. And that, I suggest, is the key point here. We have moved beyond the point where it is a question of blaming the government, or any other body, for the fact that the people of England drop enough litter each year to cause around £780 million pounds to have to be spent annually on clearing it up. This is an issue that should concern all of us and, more to the point, that every single one of us has the capability of helping to put right. So let’s all do our bit, whether by being a campaigner or an active member of a volunteer litter group. “This is our home”, as Keep Britain Tidy says – most of us wouldn’t keep trashing our own home, so let’s show people how wrong it is to keep trashing our country.

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