I spent 5 or 10 minutes this past weekend litter picking along my own drive and the side of my house where rubbish from the playing fields at Sheldon School and Hardenhuish School gets caught in the hedges and along the fence line. In that time, I filled a third of a bin bag with packaging from snack food, primarily sweet wrappers and crisp packets.
From my bedroom window I’ve seen a group of boys walking home in their school uniform and use a large plastic bottle as a football before one of them jumped on it, flattening it. They all laughed and continued walking, leaving the bottle on the grass behind them.
I’m sure these aren’t bad kids. They’re not going to shoplift or steal a car. But littering? It’s just a bit of harmless rule breaking, right? After all, it doesn’t hurt anyone. There are no consequences so it can’t be that serious.
The fact that it’s a problem probably doesn’t even enter their minds. But everyone ends up paying–approximately £1 billion annually to be precise–to clean up the mess that others leave behind. This is money that could go towards other things, such as the NHS, fixing the UK’s ageing infrastructure, and, yes, even education. Not to mention the resources–the glass and plastic bottles, the aluminium cans–that get left on the side of the road rather than recycled into something new.
It’s also not victimless. Our last Community Clean Up uncovered a Coca Cola bottle with a dead mouse: it had climbed inside to investigate, then drowned in the sticky liquid. Other wildlife regularly get their heads caught in jars and bottles. It’s no wonder the RSPCA gets over 5000 calls a year about rubbish-related wildlife injuries. And let’s not forget all that plastic and other rubbish that gets washed out to sea.
It comes down to the fact that littering needs to be taken seriously as an anti-social problem with appropriate consequences. Disposing of rubbish properly needs to be made easier than littering, and the excuses that people give for littering (”But there are no bins!” or “Hey, it makes a job for someone.” or “Everyone does it.” or “What’s the big deal? It’s just a wrapper/bottle/cigarette butt.”) need to be tackled head on. It’s only by acting to address the issue directly that we can begin to break the cycle so that the next generation of Chippenham students leave the environment better than they found it.