It was hard to miss that this past weekend was Clean for the Queen: this national event saw hundreds, if not thousands, of clean ups take place across the country, and their bright purple collection sacks certainly made an eye-catching change from the standard black bin bags. The event was ostensibly set up with the aim of cleaning the UK ahead of Queen Elizabeth’s 90th birthday this year, but I have a suspicion that someone in charge of marketing thought it would be a memorable rhyme.
Regardless, that very rhyme has seen an anti-royalist backlash, and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry over some of the comments I’ve read online or heard in the news. The fact that there is a huge debate about the NAME of a national clean up day—and no discussion about how to stop litter or why there is a need for clean up events like this in the first place—shows how much littering has become an unfortunate national norm.
My personal feelings about Clean for the Queen—or any annual cleaning event—are mixed. Littering is not an annual occurrence. It happens day in, day out across the country, and it sets the tone for what people expect and how they behave. For cleaning to be effective, it needs to be done on a regular basis so that litter doesn’t have the chance to build up (and, at the same time, people will litter more if they know an area is regularly cleaned).
That being said, events such as this are an excellent way to capture people’s attention and start a conversation about litter in our communities. Yet following on from this, a plan has to be in place to capture the momentum or else the enthusiasm will dissipate. And, as I keep going on about, cleaning is not long-term litter prevention. We need move away from the idea of cure (cleaning) and towards prevention (education / behaviour change).
But allow me to wade into the name debate. My suggestion for next year: The Great British Clean Off. Litter picking plus cake – who can complain about that?