I appreciate this piece will make me sound cranky, old and curmudgeonly, but an article about litter, from today’s Daily Telegraph, struck a particular chord. It reports that the amount of rubbish dropped on Britain’s streets has increased five fold since the 1960s. I neither know whether these statistics apply to Northern Ireland as well as to mainland Britain, nor was I around in the sixties to appreciate what five times less litter might have looked like. But I definitely do live in part of Belfast which is knee deep in the stuff.
My only quibble with the Telegraph’s opinion piece, which begins with the reporter demanding a teenager pick-up a flyer which he has just deposited on the ground, is that it does not cover litter’s twin evil in the world of dirty streets, dog shit. It seems to me that willingness to allow one’s dog to stool at will on the public thoroughfare is a mentality intimately linked to indifference many people show towards living in an locality piled high with its own residents’ rubbish.
It is a troubling conundrum, because in many ways the area in which I live is a far more cohesive community than anywhere else I’ve resided. Why then is it by far the dirtiest?
Why is it that every garden is scrupulously maintained, kitted out with a population of gnomes and assorted faux classical statuary, yet chip containers, newspapers and sweet wrappers are allowed to blow in drifts around the adjacent streets? Why is it that the community’s collective stewardship of its children is taken for granted, so much so that an unaccompanied child will think nothing of asking you to bring him a glass of water, just because it’s your house he’s playing outside, but simultaneously small children are allowed to play on streets smeared consistently with diarrheic canine faeces?
Over Christmas, whilst residents competed with each other to assemble the most elaborate displays of Christmas lights and decorations outside their houses, simultaneously, bin bags, loosely tied and spilling their contents of rotting food, soiled nappies and worse were piled up at roadsides, many days before any bin collection was due.
Polystyrene packaging, broken white goods, garden implements, suites of furniture and so on are frequently dumped in similar fashion and sit for weeks, disintegrating on the street. One call to the city council is enough to arrange collection of large items. Multiple copies of free papers flutter around for days after their delivery. Almost uniformly drinks cans, take-away cartons and the like are deposited on the ground, not by people passing through, but by people who actually live nearby.
I can understand fly-tipping; I can understand people who throw things out of car windows; I can understand litter being left at venues after public events. I simply can’t understand why people would wilfully, stubbornly, almost proudly choose to live amongst their own filth. My only speculative theory is that this trend represents a petulant reluctance to assume responsibility for anything other than our immediate personal environment. ‘I am meticulous about the upkeep of my property, but it’s someone else’s job to clean the street, therefore I will dispose of whatever I like in it’! No matter that much of the rubbish simply blows onto private property in any case.
On a national scale, litter is hardly the most pressing problem facing society. As an example of communities feeling that they’re owed a living, but that someone else should take responsibility, it’s a rather instructive emblem.