Royal litter

You may have read about the Duke of Edinburgh’s publicly-observed act of litter-picking when he was at Sandringham recently. After attending church on Sunday morning he chatted to the waiting crowds as usual and was then spotted picking up a discarded paper coffee cup and its plastic lid that were lying in the grass.

As you do, I am sure, I applaud the Duke’s action. It no doubt sets a good example to see “the first gentleman of the land” (as one onlooker described him) doing his civic duty and helping to keep his community clean. And I am delighted that the incident was widely reported as it does indeed show that it is not beneath a member of the royal family to pick up litter. If it’s OK for them to pick up litter, then it’s surely OK for the rest of us to pick up litter.

What I do find ironic, though, is that we need to shine such a spotlight on behaviour like this that should be second nature in all of us. It is an indication of how far we still have to go in changing the ingrained habits and social norms of our society that such a seemingly mundane act was afforded such widespread press coverage.

One journalist’s observation underlined just how surprised some people were that the Duke had done something such as pick up a piece of litter. “Some spectators gasped”, the journalist wrote, “when they saw him suddenly lurch forward and feared that he was about to take a fall. But it soon became clear that the still-sprightly royal was determined to do his bit to Keep Britain Tidy by picking up the cup”.

A member of the crowd was quoted as saying : “I admire him for picking up litter. And he wasn’t wearing gloves. You never know where these things have been”. This highlights another ingrained attitude that we need to challenge – for sure you ought to wear gloves when you are picking up litter and you ought to use a litter-picking stick but, for heaven’s sake, you aren’t going to catch the Black Death from picking up a discarded coffee cup.

So, good on you, Prince Philip. You’ve done the anti-litter message a world of good by your simple, natural reaction to seeing a littered coffee cup blight your landscape. But let’s all hope that one day people’s reaction to hearing a story like this will be more along the lines of “so what ? that’s what we would all do”.

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