UK government plans to all but double the on the spot fine for littering is a welcome development in a country increasingly swimming in inconsiderately disposed waste, although punitive measures against those responsible don’t tell the whole story, nor create a catchall panacea.
On three recent, separate occasions I have come across examples of utter ineptitude perpetrated by a tripartite of local authorities. After my increased exasperation born from persistent littering in what could be termed as a conspicuous hotspot, I reported two individual incidents geographically close to each other but in areas falling under the jurisdiction of different councils. Each complaint was handled at the point of receipt in accordance with service line agreements, seemingly to assure me that both flashpoints would be attended to in due course. Over a week later, both sites have yet to be remediated.
The most serious incident of the two relates to a busy, albeit rural main road that attracts a depressingly large amount of takeaway detritus thrown from moving cars, and all manner of items that might not actually be classed as waste. These could be articles that have come loose from the vehicles of builders merchants and whilst their resting places on verges and in hedges aren’t their natural habitat, they aren’t strictly rubbish that has been carelessly discarded. Despite though the highly visible problem on a designated main route, the local council now only commit to two litter picks per year, along this and the other roads that haven’t been handed over to the responsibility of parish council lengthsmen.
The third example involves a city council in the north of England, whose policy towards littering on grass verges has taken on a somewhat novel approach. The first cut of the year isn’t always the most visually appealing, although one doesn’t anticipate the council’s operatives also splicing through rubbish held within the long, damp sward. Not only is there an absence of policy whereby litter is first picked prior to grass cutting, the numbskull I witnessed riding the sit-on mower saw fit to plough through plastic garbage – a process which shredded it into a million more pieces than can ever be retrieved. Not only does this whole process highlight a blatant disregard for the environment and a palpable lack of pride taken in his work by the council drone, the absence of a works foreman checking that this most menial task has been correctly undertaken shows that even token lip service has now taken a leave of absence.
Is littering the fault of local authorities? In almost every instance, you would have to concede that it isn’t. It is though their problem, albeit one that cutbacks are failing to address and are in effect aiding? Undoubtedly, yes.
Shrinking the state, speciously clothed by the government as equipping the nation to take more responsibility for itself, has in effect left voluntary groups and individuals tired of the disregard shown in their communities to pick up the slack. In other words: free labour that doesn’t require a fiscal leg-up from local or national government. Much in the same way the parlous condition of our roads can be explained away by the state seemingly tightening budgets to allow private capital, in the form of monies raised through Section 106 agreements, to fund vital road repairs and modifications – the latter precipitated by major housing and commercial developments.
Despite the obvious shortcomings of top down policy for the funding of local authorities, this in no way explains or justifies the actions of what now are the many, not merely a few, who see fit to dispose of their rubbish in the most disgusting, selfish, and mindless of ways.
In a society where the things we just don’t want to deal with or address have become the problem of someone else, a lack of personal responsibility coupled with an “I’m alright Jack” attitude prevails. Would the occupants of cars throw their food rubbish around their own front gardens? Probably not, as that would create a problem that THEY would have to deal with. Foreign guests query as to why would anyone want to live in, and negatively contribute to such an abomination? The short answer is that people rarely dump on their own doorstep. By jettisoning their garbage into public areas they also dispense with the problem itself, leaving more time to devote to the taking of ‘selfies’ and other modern-day, superficial vacuities. In a throwaway society that doesn’t value what can be replaced, there isn’t even a sense of the most basic of decency that encompasses taking your own rubbish home.
In the minds of some young people – the problem isn’t though the preserve of teens and twenty somethings – harbouring what they would term as a rebellious spirit, acquiring takeaway and parking up to eat it on a dark country lane isn’t sufficiently “cool” until the non-biodegradable packaging has been deposited onto a verge, into a hedge or left to float in an adjacent watercourse. There wouldn’t be anything remotely cool with their peers that instead involved taking their rubbish home, especially should mummy and daddy espy what has been eaten in what was presumably their car. A lack of thought, or care as to what happens to the rubbish after it has been dumped is though an extremely concerning trend from many of the nation’s next generation of adults.
Rubbish attracts rubbish, somehow in many minds legitimizing littering in areas already blighted. Even the sight of litter-pickers encourages some to throw rubbish at them, once more absenting the individual of any personal responsibility. Far from being a problem of a windy nation that on occasion blows its garbage to all points, there is a far deeper psychological problem at work within the minds of many of the UK’s materialistic, shallow, and arrogant residents brought up on a diet of ephemeral pleasures, horrific generic shopping experiences and superficiality that only serves to dull the senses and leave a feeling of emptiness. The positive aspects of pride and taking responsibility for one’s own actions do not suit this age of entitlement; what one could once describe as virtues are often now dismissed as weaknesses.
Increasing fines will have some, perhaps negligible effect, but only if perpetrators are actually caught in the act by the minuscule, and diminishing, band of local authority workers tasked with enforcement. Only a more creative panoply of punitive measures, such as points on a license, court appearances and even the eventual forfeiture of vehicles will hammer home the importance, and seriousness, of what is not a victimless crime.
There is though an underlying sadness that the individual will potentially curtail his/her ways only under the threat of sanction. Where has the desire to do the right thing gone, in a society where the difference between right and wrong has become increasingly blurred by personal preference, and a flexible approach to which laws do and don’t suit the individual?