Rubbish news

A couple of rubbish news items caught my eye in June.

First was the announcement by London Underground that it has increased the number of litter bins on the tube system. Until now, there have been around 630 litter bins on the underground but that has now grown by 25% to around 800. Considering that there are 260 stations served by the underground network, that means that the previous average of 2.4 litter bins per station has increased to 3.1 bins per station.

The key question seems to me to be “Is that impressive or not ?”. Well, if we take the average at its face value, I would say that it isn’t that impressive. When you think that even the smallest, most remote station should probably have at least one bin on each of its 2 platforms and one bin at the entrance (although, to be fair, there are, apparently, 831 local authority bins within 10 metres of underground station exits) the average of 3 looks rather lightweight. And you would think that the larger and busier stations, particularly those with several different lines going through them, would require a much larger number of bins on them.

But, as those of you who travel through London will know, the larger, busier stations don’t actually have any bins in them at all. This is because litter bins – and even bins comprising a transparent bin bag suspended from a metal hoop – are seen as a potential security threat in these stations because they could accommodate a terrorist’s bomb. In fact there are around 35 stations without litter bins on the tube network. This means that, excluding these larger stations, there are, in reality, an average of 3.5 litter bins per station.

I take Transport for London’s point about even the larger stations having litter bins outside them and I applaud this recent increase in the number of bins on the network. But, given people’s tendency to drop litter if there isn’t a bin within their line of sight (and, not infrequently, when there is a bin in their line of sight), I very much look forward to the day when considerations of security allow all tube stations to be fully equipped with litter bins.

The second news item I read told of a fascinating idea that they are piloting in Bern, Switzerland. Now I should say that we all think, don’t we, that neither Germany nor Switzerland have a litter problem. Sorry to burst the bubble, but that just isn’t true. And the problem of fast food litter in Bern is significant. So the ingenious Bernese have come up with the idea of getting smaller takeaway outlets to use a uniform type of plastic container for every type of fast food, from pizza to kebabs. Customers will have to pay a deposit which they will get back only if the container is returned. Apparently, most of the restaurants surveyed said that they were interested in the idea. OK – that is some way from saying “yes, we’ll do it” but it’s a start.

So good news all round ! There are some good steps being taken to overcome the problems of litter. Let’s hope that these initial steps can be continued over time into a completed journey.

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