Imagine for a moment that you and a friend each want to lose ten pounds. You acknowledge that your current lifestyle isn’t particularly healthy, so you completely revamp your diet by cutting out takeaway, adding two more servings of fruit and veg each day, and saying “no” to dessert more often than you say “yes”. On top of this, you build more activity into your schedule by walking instead of driving to the shops and sign up to join a local running club. You feel confident that not only are your changes sustainable in the long term, but that you will soon be able to lose the weight and increase your fitness level.
When you meet up with your friend to ask what they’re doing to shift their weight, the response is, “Well, I’m planning to eat one less chip with every meal.”
This seems utterly crazy, right? A weight loss strategy like this simply won’t work: if someone continues to do the same thing that got them into the mess in the first place, then a (very) mild modification isn’t going to yield the desired results.
What does all of this have to do with rubbish? Expecting vast improvements when carrying out the same activities over and over again, or only doing a little bit of something instead of committing to a full-scale change, is just like this hapless friend … yet this is exactly what the country seems to be doing when it comes to reducing litter.
Running clean up after clean up is not going to change the actions of those doing the littering. Investing in programmes that reach those who are unlikely to litter in the first place will not significantly reduce the amount of rubbish on our streets. It is time that we stop preaching to the choir and take a radical approach in the fight against litter and waste.
Radical doesn’t mean difficult or controversial or even expensive. But it has to be different than what has been done previously (and shown not to be effective). It has to be done completely, not half-heartedly. It has to be thought through, joined up, and tactical.
The recent change to £150 on-the-spot litter fines is a perfect example of a missed opportunity. This was a chance to publicise that litter louts would be facing higher fines, and some of the best places to do said publicity is at the point-of-sale for the majority of litter (supermarkets, takeaways, and petrol stations) and in areas that are known to be highly littered, such as laybys and schools.
Why is this so important? Often just the threat of punishment is enough to change behaviour. After all, there is not a traffic warden for every set of double yellow lines … but the vast majority of people don’t park there because of the possibility of getting a ticket. A well-publicised anti-litter campaign could have the same impact.
Of course, this would require a willingness to tackle the problem head on and to look beyond PR to actual solutions. Now that’s radical.