When I’m stuck for something to write, along comes the blogging elf, aka Catherine, with helpful contributions:
Musings on opera tickets, Waitrose bags and their deconstruction ………
The last few weeks in the Commons have been interesting for many reasons. In a time of complex tragedy, there were high-minded encomia on freedom of speech. PMQs provided the usual torrent of opportunistic abuse. There will, it seems, be a glittering event in London in February, to mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta where one can network with many distinguished bankers and legal and PR experts, discussing the importance of this excellent document which enshrines the rule of law in the country. Perhaps there will be a discussion on the European Convention on Human Rights, if the UK has not withdrawn from it in the meantime.
Also fascinating is the fact that the Communities and Local Government Committee is conducting an enquiry into a subject dear to the hearts of those who love the park: litter. Representatives of the food packaging industry, various councils and the Campaign to Protect Rural England, and other interested bodies, have presented much interesting evidence, detailing what various bodies are trying to do about this problem, about the balance between what councils should be doing and what private firms should be doing, and about the cost.
For example, a speaker from the Foodservice Packaging Association said, inter alia:
We do feel that those who litter are not all the same and that differences in motivation and inclination exist so we would wish to encourage the trial and further testing of bins such as the Big Belly which overcomes the issue of bins overflowing by crushing the contents and sending a signal to the waste collector once the bin is full. …..We applaud the Litter Angels charity campaign organised by Gordon Henderson MP. This campaign takes a strong message to school children to show the anti social nature of littering and demonstrates the benefits to the local environment of overcoming litter.
The Big Belly is a positive idea, although I do not know of any instances of it being trialled in the UK. Mrs K has already pointed out the possibility of talking bins, an original initiative which aims to encourage people in public to care a bit more about their surroundings, and the effect of littering on others.
The submission from David Sedaris has attracted the most press attention.
Mr Sedaris, a US writer living in England, has told the Committee that Britain has the worst litter problem in the world. Further evidence he presents is that, on litter picking forays, he never picks up opera tickets, and has only once retrieved a Waitrose bag. Bags from other supermarkets abound. He finds more Mayfair cigarette butts than any other, the cheapest brand. This has led him to conclude that certain-socio economic groups are the principal culprits. Not only are the poor unable to cook, it seems, but they are throwing down a lot of litter on their way to and from the takeaway. He notes also a “staggering” amount of rubbish thrown down by pupils attending a school near his home; the head teacher thinks it is “demeaning” to make pupils pick up the rubbish they drop.
Many points made by Mr Sedaris resonate locally. Here, much litter is observably caused by school pupils, and there seems little point in seeking the help or support of their teachers. Dozens of cigarette butts are discarded, although I am unable to identify the specific brand. I also have never picked up opera tickets in the park; I am not sure where one would go locally to hear Der Ring das Nibelungen, Turandot or Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Nor can I recall a single Waitrose bag; Tesco and Morrisons beat them hands down. The nearest Waitrose is probably in Cheadle Hulme or Poynton. The Ocado van does trundle about, though, but I have never seen a champagne bottle or lobster slathered in charmoula butter hurled from its windows. So I am not entirely sure what inferences to make, qualitatively or quantitatively, from the presence or absence of these items. At which point, let us, all together, quote Carl Sagan: “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” What are our chances of doing a randomized, placebo-controlled, double blind, crossover design trial to establish hard data? Not good.
I find myself disagreeing with Mr Sedaris on the contention that litter is mainly emanating from low socio-economic groups. Those whom I observe in the park who obviously take pleasure in throwing down rubbish tend to radiate a sense of entitlement, of security, certainty. They are a privileged group who act as they please and others deal with the consequences; they are sure that whatever mess they make will be picked up by their social and genetic inferiors, like me. To what extent might the problem be a reflection of the ubiquitous class system? Or is it part of the perception that there is no such thing as society, a feculent neoliberal chicken coming home to roost?
The situation defies any sort of solution. Mrs Thatcher memorably chastised the nation about littering, a long time ago, to no discernible effect. Bill Bryson’s thoughtful entreaties were to no avail. Some friends cogitating on the subject assure me that the only way forward is a tough enforcement crackdown, with as many fines as possible being handed out ruthlessly, to dispel the sense that one can litter with impunity. Mr Sedaris suggests road patrols which stop traffic and fine anyone with clean cars, presumably on the assumption that they have thrown litter out of the window. Draconian, but it might work.
But we soldier on. In December 2014 Keep Britain Tidy published a report seeking to establish a fuller picture of the economic cost of the litter all around us . The Clean Europe Network had a “summit” in Brussels in the same month. There are also fears that the cuts to council budgets could further curtail council refuse collections, as reported in the Independent. Perhaps the Commons Committee will come up with some magical solutions.
Does anyone else remember being shown “In the Bag” at school? I’m still trying to deconstruct that, fifty years later.