There are three things in life that allow you to get practically anything accomplished:
In more or less that order. Combining them is like rocket fuel: if you have enough people (effort) spending every waking hour on a project (time) and throw money at the issue, there’s a good chance it will be solved, and probably more quickly than you anticipated.
However, I would also argue that if you have a lot of dedicated people willing to spend just a little bit of time working towards a common goal, then money is less relevant.
I think you can see where I’m going with this.
In my mind, this is the crux of the matter when it comes to solving the problem of litter. Because litter is a cultural issue, it requires a wholesale programme of behaviour change. It is big. It is complicated. It has a lot of moving parts.
And this is why I completely understand why people support Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and Deposit Return Schemes (DRS). These generate money, hopefully have the necessary manpower to be run properly, and are done at a national level; they wouldn’t stop litter overnight, but I suspect they would go an incredibly long way to improving the situation.
Yet I have stopped waiting for EPR, for DRS, or for a highly visible national anti-litter campaign that targets people who are more likely to litter in a manner that resonates with them (not just posters that appeal to me). In the seven years since Off the Ground started, I can’t recall seeing any serious attempt to actually improve the situation.*
Where does this leave us? There are several things we can consider doing if we genuinely want to take steps to reduce litter in our community.
- First, it’s about focusing on changing things where we have a modicum of control … and recognising we can control more than just picking up rubbish. This may mean harnessing the power of networking, bringing an anti-litter agenda to our workplace, or promoting educational opportunities like Eco-Schools.
- Second, we need to break things down into small, manageable chunks. While time is an important factor, trying to do everything at once is a recipe for feeling overwhelmed. Instead, what can we do for an extra ten minutes a day that will have a positive impact?
- And finally, we need to harness the power of a lot of dedicated people. There is an army of litter pickers across the country: how do we encourage them to take on just a little bit more? What upstream, preventative project could a litter-picking group do on top of their normal activities?
As I write these words, it feels like the world is falling apart around us. But I recently shared a post about how litter is the canary in the coal mine: how we choose to approach this seemingly insignificant topic represents how we deal with bigger issues. Do we lead, lend a helping hand, or ignore it? Do we pick the path of least resistance, or the path we know to be right? Since many of us cannot afford to throw money at the problems facing us, how can we join our time and effort together to multiply our impact instead?
Please note: I do not consider the National Litter Strategy a serious attempt since it doesn’t actually seem to have been acted on.