I have a tendency to get long-winded when it comes to writing (and talking) about rubbish. The Why People Litter series turned into three parts (here, here, and here). Last summer, one idea about the importance of crafting the right message when it comes to tackling litter ended up spawning four blog posts (what, when, where, and the power of influence). Even the very first Putting Litter First blog post was divided into two because it was so long!
This month, however, I’ll try to keep things short and sweet. Do you know anyone who works for Royal Mail or someone who works as a broadband technician at the roadside panel?
These are two examples of companies who are known to litter. With Royal Mail, it’s their rubber bands: Jon and I will never have to purchase new ones as we must have found hundreds in Chippenham over the years. These bits of postal detritus are so well known that they have their own Wikipedia page, and tweets about the problem never seem to be answered.
It was Twitter that likewise brought my attention to roadside broadband cabinets and the amount of wire debris that can be left behind. It’s easy to imagine these pieces getting swept down a drain in heavy rain, or perhaps nibbled on by a curious pooch. Both issues are similar in that they are not malicious or intentional but, like most litter*, they are entirely preventable. Yet neither broadband companies nor Royal Mail itself appear to consider this to be a problem. Otherwise, wouldn’t it be sorted by now?
So it comes down to speaking to employees: how can avoiding leaving litter behind be built into the culture of the organsation? Is it possible to have environmental champions who are willing to influence the behaviour of their colleagues?
At Royal Mail, I completely understand not wanting to put countless rubber bands around a wrist, but surely there has to be another way to keep track of them? For example, could posties clip pouches that are typically used for dog poo bags on a belt loop and shove rubber bands in it as they go about their route? Is there a way to incentivise the retention of the bands so they can be reused? Could raising awareness of the problem encourage posties to pick up rubber bands that they dropped earlier? After all, the bands are likely to serve as breadcrumbs along a particular route!
For any broadband cabinet work, couldn’t a simple tick list be used, with one of the final steps being “Pick up all debris” (and take a photo to record that it’s been done). Even better, why not clean the area around the cabinet and behind it, as this is where litter tends to lurk? Taking two minutes to do this is a great way to benefit the community that people are working in.
These are both examples of systemic issues in that they have become an inherent part of the organisations involved. However, systems are made of people: who can we speak to begin to bring about positive change?
There are instances of accidental litter, where an item falls out of a pocket or perhaps it gets blown out of an open-top bin or is retrieved by birds and wildlife. But, for the most part, it’s preventable!
To follow up on the litterinar, we’re planning to have a Q&A session at 7:00pm on 23 June: what are your burning questions about litter and rubbish? Send them to me and let me know if you can attend.
And keep up with previous Putting Litter First posts:
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The year-long series Putting Litter First (so we can see the end of it!) is about trying to find a middle ground when it comes stopping litter in our communities. Often, it seems like there’s a false choice presented: those who are working to stop litter can either run a litter pick or they can lobby government for higher fines or for programmes like the Deposit Return Scheme.
The problem with this dichotomy is that most of us are already doing the first bit. We’ve been picking up litter from Chippenham for six years without a noticeable decrease in the amount of rubbish found. On the other hand, waiting for the government to get its act together with higher fines, sensible enforcement, and a proper Deposit Return Scheme feels like an exercise in futility. We can (and we should) campaign for these changes, but, at the same time, we must recognise that the outcome is outside of our control.
Instead, I think there are things that can be done at the community level if enough people are willing to step forward to help make it happen. A big part of this involves making sure that the right people are aware of what tools are available and not re-inventing the wheel. Interested in learning more? Sign up to have the latest Putting Litter First blog post delivered to you on the first of every month.