Britain today, as anyone with a working pair of eyes will have noticed, is engulfed by rubbish. You might have seen the statistic in yesterday's newspaper: the amount of rubbish dropped here has risen by 500 per cent since the 1960s.Indeed. It’s almost like the rise in litter can increased with a loss of ….something…in the UK, isn’t it?
But what could it be?
Here’s a clue:
According to the Keep Britain Tidy campaign group, discarded cigarette ends are also everywhere, except the bin. "Over the past couple of years, we've seen a massive increase in cigarette butts left on the streets," says the campaign's spokesman. "The smoking ban of July 2007 has driven smokers outdoors."Ahh, yes, it’s a loss of pride and confidence. After all, why should anyone think for themselves now, or take pride in a country where there are more and more petty, obstructive and hectoring laws?
And it isn’t going to get any better as the older generation begins to die off:
It claimed that a quarter of all the litter on English streets is fast-food packaging. Almost a third of that is from McDonald's and there is also a lot marked with the logos of Greggs, KFC and Subway.Well, of course they are. They're too worried about ‘climate change’ and man’s effect on ‘anthropogenic global warming’ to worry about things like littering.
Now, I don't know how often you see a pensioner flinging a Big Mac carton on the pavement, but in my experience it's reasonably rare. So I hope it isn't monstrously fogeyish of me to suggest that litterers are more likely to be young.
And don’t expect their teachers to take any more of an interest:
This might be a sweeping supposition, but it's one that anyone who lives near a school will be in a position to forgive. This category includes my parents, who have lived beside one for the past 25 years. Between the playing fields and their house is the driveway of a large estate (of the country-house rather than the council variety). Every lunchtime, they find the driveway adorned by fast-food packaging.Ah, the products of our teacher training colleges are well worth their hire, aren’t they? And yet they bleat constantly about needing to teach children about ‘climate change’ while ignoring the things where they could actually make a difference.
On one of the numerous occasions my mother complained to the school, a senior teacher told her that he was disinclined to punish any pupils because he "didn't want to rub their noses in it" – even though this would sound like an extremely satisfactory course of action. Another told her that it wasn't the school's responsibility to teach pupils not to drop litter. The problem was society's fault, you see.
On the other hand, there are signs that when punishment doesn't work, incentive does. The perfect examples are the two open-air concerts that the rock band Radiohead held in Victoria Park in London last summer. Traditionally, the music is the only thing that distinguishes such an event from a landfill site: every square inch of grass will be obscured by a carpet of plastic beer glasses.So why put all your resources into punishment (fines for putting out the wrong bins) and none into incentives?
Not at the Radiohead gigs, though. Plenty of beer was served, but none of the glasses were tossed aside, for the simple reason that there was a 2p reward for returning them to the bar. All over the park, thrifty rock fans were busy amassing as many empty glasses as they could carry. Admittedly, the motive was to save on the next pint, rather than maintain the park's natural beauty, but it still worked. When it comes to encouraging selfless behaviour, there's nothing like a little self-interest.
Littering in Britain clearly isn't going to be eradicated by protest alone. It needs to be eradicated by education. Pupils need to be told, unequivocally, from the earliest age, that littering is wrong and that the consequences of doing it, both for our environment and for themselves, will be unhappy.I’d argue that we aren’t doing too well on the ‘lessons in numeracy and literacy’; faint hope that schools will be able to tackle the littering problem as well.
If a school receives reports that any of its pupils have been littering during lunch, it should have the power to keep them all within its gates. Students need lessons not only in numeracy and literacy but in considerate behaviour. It may be too late to deal with the current generation of grown-up litter louts, but we must make every effort to stop them being succeeded by another.
Incentives, though, will. Wouldn’t it be nice these employed a bit more often?