As with many elderly folk, the first thing I did today was to purchase my newspaper. Arriving at my local Tesco, my first observation was the amount of litter on the streets. We have all been aware of the disgraceful scenes at various beaches in recent weeks. Today the litter was scattered all around my local Tesco and beyond. It was shocking or rather it would have been had it not been the new normal.
This is not to say that the dumping of litter is a new phenomenon. Contrary to the myths on social networks suggesting that everyone was an angel in ‘the old days’, I well remember ‘road-sweepers’ going around our streets picking up the crap people routinely dumped wherever it suited them. We even had a long-running ‘Keep Britain Tidy’ founded in 1960, because, frankly, large parts of Britain were not tidy. Far from it. Now, and I cannot provide statistical evidence to back up my point, it seems that we now have two epidemics doing the rounds: COVID-19 and litter.
Today, as every Sunday, I observed two local gentlemen with litter-picking claws and large bin bags removing the rubbish from the area. I always make a point of thanking them for what they do and indeed think that maybe I should be out there with them. I asked one man what sorts of things he had collected. His bag included dozens of empty laughing gas canisters, the usual KFC and McDonalds boxes, Costa cups, dozens of discarded face masks and – look away now if you have a weak stomach – used tampons and condoms. I’d like to say I was shocked to hear this, but I wasn’t. The man told me today had been far worse than recent Sundays when he went out collecting, but every Sunday saw him fill at least one large bin bag, maybe two.
Let he who is without sin cast the first stone, so I should say here and now I have not always been a responsible citizen. When I was younger and even more stupid, I probably dumped my fair share of litter. As a smoker until 31st December 1993, I was one of those highly irritating scumbags who would casually toss my dog end into the road or out of a car window. And before the arrival of many fillings in my teeth, heralding the end of my gum-chewing days, I probably contributed to many pavements being clogged with Wrigley’s. But I’ve got older, slightly more mature. And more aware of our environment which is becoming choked by rubbish, as pointed out by David Attenborough in his epic Blue Planet 2 series.
Clearly, the scenes of widespread littering have no effect on the litterers, so I have a novel solution. Tax the companies whose litter is dumped by their customers. Either tax the likes of McDonalds and KFC, to name but two at random, at source so they pay for the cost of clearing up the rubbish their customers dump or bill them for each individual item that is picked up on the streets. I rarely visit McDonalds or KFC so I can’t tell you whether they remind their customers not to toss their packaging out of the car window, but if they do, it clearly isn’t working. And the idea that we could Keep Britain Tidy died years ago.