What does the state of our rubbish say about our relationships with ourselves, our communities and our planet? Why is it that some people take pride in how they leave places that they visited and others could not care less? What impact do these different values and behaviours have on what we see and what we feel?
Our rubbish says something very deep and symbolic about our society.
I am very fortunate to have come back from a month in France. A whole month sailing, walking, and cycling in Brittany and the Vendee. In all that time I saw 3 pieces of rubbish, all single cans of energy drinks squashed by the roadside.
In 10 minutes yesterday, on a short walk along the well-heeled streets of Lymington, I counted 103 pieces of rubbish, including face masks, plastic packaging, beer cans, paper. This made me feel very sad that I am living in a community where too many do not care.
What is the difference that makes the difference? We both live in beautiful parts of the world with similar demographics and income levels. We are both countries of intelligent and caring people. Is it provision of bins? In France, litter bins were very rare, on many pristine beaches, there were none.
Was it about signage, exhorting people to keep the place clean? I saw none in France. Maybe it was about regulation, but I saw no evidence of threatening fines to litter louts. Was it about supervision? Police and officials in high vis jackets were noticeably absent.
So what is it that enables the French to have a day on a beautiful beach without leaving it looking like a rubbish tip?
Maybe it is about attitude, inculcated down through generations, that we have shared responsibility for keeping our part of the world clean and beautiful so that we can all enjoy it.
· Maybe it is because they believe that they brought it so they should take it back with them.
· Maybe they realise that the effort taken to remove their rubbish is infinitesimal
What is it about the English that makes them think that rubbish is not their responsibility and that someone else can pick it up if they want?
· Why is it considered acceptable to carry bags of food and drink to the beach and only carry back what is in their stomach.
· Why is it OK to throw food wrappers and containers out of the window of their cars?
· Why is it acceptable to destroy beauty spots with broken fridges and used settees
· Why do we think that litter should only be picked up by public servants?
How can we take responsibility for the future of the planet if we cannot even take responsibility for the can of Red Bull that has just been drunk?
What is the solution?
· Signage, bins, threats and regulations are not working. You will only have to look at the pictures of Bournemouth beach after a Bank holiday weekend to see the evidence of that.
· Wonderfully public-spirited people who spend their free time picking up litter in their locality are creating a clean space, with only a short shelf life until, once again, it is desecrated by litter.
· What can we do, as individuals, to model the appropriate behaviour?
· Can we call out those who are destroying the beauty of our places?
This is fundamentally about relationships, with ourselves, our communities and our planet. It only takes a small relationship ripple from many people to create a tidal wave of change.
Leave only your footprints behind you.