2 for 1

Catching up on #OneADayInMay photos and rubbish musings with a double bill.  Yesterday was a bit of a marathon: an all-day team event at work followed by a colleague’s leaving do in the evening meant I barely saw daylight or the outside world.  No worries though – I didn’t have to look far to continue my (at least) one-piece-of-litter-a-day goal.  I have mentioned previously how my office has a bit of a rubbish problem and, sure enough, I found something.

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What is going on here? This is a little table in the ladies’ loo that people typically use to put things they are carrying while they wash their hands (I’m assuming the gents’ has one too, but I’ve never checked).  Hands get clean,  items stay dry, everybody wins.  In this case, despite there being a number of recycling bins throughout the building, the can was carried into the loo and placed on the table.  I first noticed it mid-afternoon and didn’t think anything of it.  However, when it was still there at the end of the day, I grabbed it and added it to the recycling.

This is a good example of how littering is not quite as clear cut as it sometimes appears.  This is not an item tossed carelessly on the ground, but rather deliberately placed somewhere and then … what?  Forgotten by the owner?  Or intentionally left because someone else will pick it up?  It’s impossible to tell.

Bear with me for a slight digression … I recently learned about the Zeigarnik Effect, which is when incomplete tasks have a tendency to dominate thoughts.  However, once items are mentally or literally crossed off the to do list, they tend to disappear from the brain. In this case, the can was empty, and it is easy to imagine someone sitting it down and not thinking about it further.

And how much litter ends up in parks and the like for similar reasons?  My “litter Bible” from Zero Waste Scotland says
“The concept of ‘litterers’ may be a misleading one, and it may be more constructive to think in terms of ‘littering incidents’ which are triggered by behavioural cues.”  This is why I think it is so important to understand why people litter without tarring everyone with the same “litterers are lazy/thoughtless/selfish/etc.” brush.  It’s the only way we will be able to develop successful interventions.

However, sometimes (often times?) litterers are lazy, thoughtless, selfish, etc.  These photos are from today’s walk home from the railway station and were taken within the space of about 15 feet.

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This is a Tesco sandwich carton.  According to the ever-helpful distance measuring tool for Google maps, it was found approximately 345 feet (105 meters) from the entrance to Tesco, so that is apparently how long it takes to eat a sandwich.

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Someone walking in the other direction, from Sainsbury’s towards Tesco’s, left the remains of their meal along this wall.  This is another example of where the perpetrators likely do not view their behaviour as littering.  They just passed a bin near the railway station; even if they noticed it, they’re not going to double back to it.  The closest bin is ahead at Tesco’s, but it cannot be seen from this area and, unless you are obsessed with the location of every bin in Chippenham (ahem, just me then?), this seems like a “safe” place to leave things.  After all, it’s not littering because it’s not on the ground, right?

Which raises the question: Can areas like this–where litter commonly ends up–be used to run education campaigns or targeted interventions?  You can go full Big Brother, with CCTV and signs warning of £150 fines if you are caught littering.  Or simply point towards the nearest bins in each direction, establishing the norm that bins–not walls–are for rubbish.  Or use posters like Keep Britain Tidy’s award-nominated, paranoia-inducing “We’re Watching You” campaign.

Who would have guessed that picking up one piece of litter a day could be so thought provoking?  Many thanks if you’ve joined in this month; if you haven’t, it’s never too late to start!

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