Litter – it’s beneath us……….

I read a fascinating blog the other day by a man from Virginia by the name of Bob Updegrove. He recollected a speaker who he had heard some time before speaking out strongly against litter – but with an interestingly different slant.

The nameless speaker used as an example people who eat at McDonalds but who, instead of collecting up all the rubbish left over after their meal and taking it across to the rubbish bin provided, simply leave it there on the table. His point was that, when you do that, you are essentially saying that there is someone else around who is lower than you and who will come along and tidy up your mess.

That speaker had a point, didn’t he ? When people drop litter, they are taking the view that it is beneath them either to take their rubbish home or to put it in a bin. They are making a statement that it’s someone else’s job to pick it up and dispose of it.

But some people come up with pretty convincing counter-arguments to this. Not once have I been told, in all seriousness, how it is important that there is litter thrown around the place as it gives someone employment to pick it up. It doesn’t seem to cross people’s minds that local authorities would gladly redeploy their street cleaning staff on other, much more constructive duties, if there wasn’t the need for so much litter to be cleared up.

What I do question, though, is to what extent it would change people’s behaviour if we started communicating the message that “littering is an act of contempt – if you litter you are saying that there is someone else out there of lowlier status than you who is fit to pick it up”. To a proportion of litterers, the thought that someone else might pick up their litter wouldn’t even cross their mind. But, to many who litter, I do believe that it might stop and make them think. It is the kind of message that, to my knowledge, hasn’t been tried out and which, if formulated in the right way, might succeed in changing the attitude and behaviour of some types of litterer.

I can, for example, see it working in schools. In my local secondary school, the caretaker collect 2-3 black sacks of litter every single school day from the school buildings and grounds. I suspect that the young people at the school would relate to the idea that dropping litter in the school is a statement of arrogance and of contempt for the caretaker – akin to the days of yore when servants abounded and were expected to fulfil the most demeaning of tasks for their superiors that would these days no doubt merit discussion in front of an employment tribunal.

So – let’s give this issue a bit more thought and see if this is an idea that can get the “please put your litter in the bin” message across more effectively to at least some of those who need to change their behaviour. Litter shouldn’t really be “beneath us” at all……

One Response to “Litter – it’s beneath us……….”

  1. Anne Seward Says:

    This may be an effective approach but I feel it’s not just a matter of it being assumed someone else will pick the litter up but of there being people who are actually being *paid* to pick it up, constituting of course a vicious circle. Employing people to pick it up implies that dropping it in the first place is to be expected and is acceptable: a catch22 situation.

    The greatest block I come up against in my own mind is that many litterers couldn’t care less whether it’s picked up or not; they seem oblivious of their environment, at least until litter hits them in the face (i.e. is blown about their own person or their children) – or they are assaulted by the smell.

    Schools should begin by teaching children to be responsible for their school environment instead of paying caretakers to pick up after them – which is scandalous and gives out all the wrong signals. At my school litter was taken seriously and the whole class was punished in some way if anyone was caught dropping it. The policy worked a treat and cost nothing.

    I wish we could run an on-going national campaign (applied locally and workable on any scale, including within schools) with conspicuous ‘brand’ (national) signs (a max/min type thermometer?) in public places showing the rising and hopefully falling cost of litter collection in every region/sector participating, the figures being directly reflected along side by ring-fenced savings for specific local/school projects agreed upon by the relevant community.

    This would tend to pull the whole country together whilst serving local interests. Of course there would have to be a differently slanted appeal to capture the imagination of foreign visitors, displayed at airports, on motorway gantries, etc. Leaflets could appeal for visitors’ support, explaining the countrywide effort to clean up the UK.

    I would really like to know what you think about this idea. Thanks very much.


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