My year-long informal survey on a half mile stretch of our average stretch of Welsh country road resulted in 26-full black plastic bags of litter. That’s one-half 80-litre bag per week every week! The refuse is thrown mostly from car windows at the places where the road narrows and cars slow down for oncoming traffic.
There are roughly 200.000 miles of country road in the UK. If we extrapolate my small survey sample, imagine the enormous mountain, a staggering 5.2 million black bags of litter just on these country roads. If you stack 1 football pitch with bags, that mountain would be over 50 metres high or as tall as a 15-storey building! (Or you could cover 50 football pitches 1-metre deep with litter.) Yuk!!! That is what the less-than-environmentally-responsible Brits throws by the side of this road. And it’s a fairly quiet one. The mountain is probably much bigger.
Littering is a danger to wildlife. Pieces of plastic, metal and glass litter are dangerous to birds, fish and small mammals. Small pieces mistaken for food, once ingested, can cause severe internal injuries.
And discarded litter looks disgusting. it makes our countryside looks like a rubbish tip (dump). Ans all type of litter take a long time to bio-degrade and disappear naturally, so whatever the material the right thing to do is not drop it in the first place.
Bio-degradability depends on climate and circumstances, but under unfavourable conditions estimated time spans can be as long as:
– Plastic bottles – indefinitely
– Aluminium cans 80–100 years
– Tin cans 50 years
– Glass indefinitely
– Plastic bags 10–20 years
– Cigarette butts up to 2 years
– Orange peel/banana skins up to 2 years
A poll done by the UK government showed that the British public believe that our country is dirtier than the rest of Western Europe. Thirty-nine per cent of respondents said that litter was one of the factors that make them feel uncomfortable in Britain’s streets.
Who are these people that litter? Let’s examine the profile of this week’s litterers on our small surveyed stretch of road finds that he/she:
- Smokes Lambert and Butler (in total found 4 packages, 1 bought in Malta, 3 bought in UK)
- Drinks Oranjeboom beer (5 pint cans found with special offer jubilee packaging!), Coca Cola (litre bottle and 2 cans), Fanta Orange soda (1 can), Spring water (3 bottles), Lin Bru ale (1 can)
- Eats: candy (1x Haribo Tangtastic, 1x Jellie Babies, 2x Cadbury Boost), crisps (1x McCoy salted, 1x Walkers Worcester Sauce), a large pickle & pork roll and McDonalds (1 full burger meal in various bits and pieces)
- Takes medicine (1 pharmacy small paper bag)
In Texas littering was also a very big problem. The ‘Don’t mess with Texas’ programme was launched to bring appeal to notorious litterers. The phrase “Don’t Mess with Texas” was prominently shown on road signs on major highways, television, radio and in print advertisements. The campaign is credited with reducing litter on Texas highways roughly 72% between 1986 and 1990. The campaign’s target market was 18-35 year old males, which was statistically shown to be the most likely to litter. The slogan appealed to this group, because they cared about Texas. The success of the alliterative slogan lives on. While not intended to become a state-wide cultural icon, it did.
Texas appealed to a group that normally does not care about the environment. What would appeal to this age group in the UK?
Most initiatives here are directed towards picking up litter in advance of this weekend’s Jubilee Celebrations. The Daily Mail launched a ‘Spring Clean for the Queen’ campaign. It wants to try and rid Britain of the eyesore of litter ahead of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations and it is launched a competition, asking readers to help clean up their local area, with prizes to win.
In Scotland there is the ‘Keep Scotland Beautiful’, Network Rail is launching a big jubilee clean up of stations, Keep Wales Tidy is an ongoing effort and more initiatives to be found at the Litteraction.org.uk website and all have many opportunities to volunteer.
The real question though? How do we change litterers’ behaviour? What, if anything, will make them care?
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(Whilst sitting outside a Cardiff Stadium, two 20-year-old men opened their car window and dumped the entire remains of their KFC meals into the parking lot and drove away without any thought of their actions. -Ed.)
Dorret Groot Wassink is Managing Director of the UK change management firm Target Point Ltd. She assists global organisations in bringing about top-down corporate cultural change. Her clients present and past include: ING Group, Bolletje, Rabobank, Fortis Group and others. She is passionate about doing all we can to save this earth and cut down on carbon emmissions and consumption. She is Dutch-born and raised and currently lives in the UK with her husband and three young children.
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