The Green is looking splendid following the recent Love Our Green Sunday (or LOGS) at the weekend. It’s been given a good brush and spruce up – it almost sparkles with tidiness – and there’s hardly a speck of litter to be seen. Which is nice – but unfortunately we know it won’t last. Two days’ time, or less, and the volunteers’ hard work will have started to be eroded by the careless and the lazy littering of others. And then it can escalate: is it the so-called ‘broken window’ theory of criminology at work – that a single broken window in a district that no one bothers to fix attracts further breakages and vandalism until crime is out of control? Why do some people never dream of dropping litter, while others appear to have no conscience about it? Is it about a need to leave one’s mark on one’s environment, or simply thoughtlessness?
If one can swallow one’s upset and anger for a minute, it’s actually a fascinating study of the human psyche to see how people drop their litter. Have you seen anyone do any of the following (the following breakdown comes from a site called Environmental Defence Canada, but it’s so appropriate for the Green too:
- Wedging: this is when someone stuffs or wedges their litter in small places, such as a gap
between seats, so it will not be seen. Littering with a touch of the obsessive-compulsive
- Undertaking: this is when someone covers or buries their litter under soil or leaves. I don’t
think our local litterers take this much care, but perhaps the beer bottles and tin cans to be
found underneath the shrubs have been more carefully placed than we think.
- Foulshooting – this is when people throw their rubbish at a bin, miss it and leave the litter
on the ground. An extension of the great British love of sport from the comfort of a chair,
Wherever you encourage people to walk through a space, or to linger in it, which of course is what the Green is for, there are opportunities for littering, deliberately, out of habit, thoughtlessly or forgetfully, but are there any clever solutions out there to extend the sterling efforts of the Friends volunteers and keep the Green clean?
1. Put up signs
We could appeal to people’s sense of the aesthetic – Keep our Green beautiful! – but why not challenge unthinking behaviour with something like this? (from a US website called Guru Habits: the writer says that he is ‘… not a psychologist, psychiatrist, physician, or professor… not a leader of any religious or political group. And … not closed-minded, bigoted, or elitist.’ You’ll see the tone of some of his comments below in his suggestion for an anti-littering poster he put up in his area:
For Fortune Green, how about a slightly less aggressive version that I saw last weekend on the currently litter-free verges of the A21 in Kent:
2. Implement penalties for littering
When I’m feeling at my most rabid and vigilante, I really believe this is the way to go, but penalties have to be enforceable, and I doubt if Camden could afford CCTV cameras, or the police an officer on 24-7 patrol. (And I could only personally enforce this on Mondays, Wednesdays and alternate Fridays when the sun is out).
3. Offer rewards for collecting rubbish
This might work as a one-off competition, for example, but come to think of it, why should we reward what is simply decent behaviour?
4. Have more rubbish bins
Good idea? No! Apparently more than half of all littering occurs within five metres of a rubbish bin.
5. Take photos of the rubbish and get coverage in the local press and social media
This might work. It’s been effective with some shops whose overflowing refuse bins are an
eyesore, but would it work on individuals’ habits? I don’t think so. And would anyone really want to handle the stuff in order to build a suitably impressive shocking pile that will have some impact?
6. Train crows to pick up litter
This really isn’t such a ridiculous idea – see the fascinating TED talk by Joshua Klein. https://www.ted.com/talks/joshua_klein_on_the_intelligence_of_crows
Crows are extremely intelligent (their brains are proportionate to those of chimps), and can be taught to carry out tasks where there is a reward at the end. They could be trained to pick up cigarette butts and other rubbish and take them to a crow ‘vending machine’, where, in exchange, they would receive a nut or other food. In Fortune Green, we might have to use magpies instead as there are more of them, but they’re the same family so that’s not a problem. Unfortunately, pigeons wouldn’t pass the intelligence test.
Or there’s a simpler solution that won’t take as long as training a bunch of crows. Last Thursday morning, I was doing circuit training with the Ladies Who Lunge, and a man walked past us, picking up litter as he went. He does this regularly, simply building a little light litter-picking into his walks, and he makes a real difference. So, you don’t need lots of time, or special equipment, or technical knowledge. I know it’s a platitude, but everyone can do a little bit, leave their mark in a good way and make the Green better for everyone else. So that’s what I’m going to try to do from now on. I look forward to seeing you there.
- Catherine Allison
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