I’ve been thinking about a few of the comments that came up last week during our chats with people in John Coles Park, and I believe they may underpin why littering is so prevalent in the UK.
One teenager, when asked if he was aware of the fines for littering, answered that his father already paid too much in tax. I didn’t quite follow the logic at the time, but I now realise that he was trying to trot out the old chestnut which seems to go “I pay taxes. My taxes pay for litter collection. Therefore, it is okay to litter.”
In my mind, the point of taxes is to pay for things I can’t do myself. I am not going to be maintaining roadways, developing national education plans, or extinguishing fires. I can’t mend a broken leg, treat a disease, or help someone suffering with a mental breakdown. I won’t be arresting criminals, investigating crimes, or keeping the public safe.
But put a bit of rubbish in a bin, either while on the go or at home? I can do that. And my taxes can then pay for someone to collect all of the rubbish from a designated place for what I hope is proper recycling or disposal. But why should money be spent carrying out an action that anyone can and should be doing? Why are we as a nation tolerating such an unnecessary expense?
I think the second comment, from a twenty-something, sheds some light on this. It was along the lines of “But what happens to the person whose job it is to clean up?”
Nobody is born with a label that says “Future litter picker”. This is a job that exists only because so many people can’t seem to find a bin or take their rubbish home. There seems to be a genuine disconnect in understanding the true cost of littering: one billion pounds a year could fix a lot of potholes, pay for more nurses, or better educate children to compete in a global market. The goal is not to put people out of a job, but rather redirect the funding towards jobs and activities that are also desperately needed. If we want to prioritise a solid infrastructure, good education, and top-notch medical services, then shouldn’t we free up spending from those problems that we cause ourselves?
How do we address these underlying mindsets? I have to admit I don’t have any ideas at the moment. But I do know that unless they are specifically dealt with, then littering will continue to be a vexing, as well as taxing, problem.