There is a weird epidemic spreading through the land. The first symptom is selective blindness. The second is the urge to chuck a piece of plastic, glass or tin at the nearest attractive patch of grass. The third is to shrug the shoulders.
Afterwards, the sufferer has no awareness he has done anything anti‑social, and in extreme cases may even pretend to be an upstanding member of society.
Most of the victims of this condition appear to be perfectly normal. Some wear jeans, others business suits. Because most of the trash littering our countryside and our cities has been dropped by ordinary people, doubtless under the impression they’re making a reasonable job of conducting their lives or bringing up their children.
Secondly, everyone — including the person who jettisoned the thing — will have to pay for it to be cleared up by someone from the local council.
This is a beautiful country. Where did this collective urge to wreck it come from?
The scale of the problem is immense. In a single August night, on one six-mile stretch of the M3 motorway which runs from Surrey to Southampton (between junctions one and two), workers from the Highways Agency picked up 189 bags of trash, weighing in total one ton. We are being swamped by rubbish.
Keeping the squalor of our streets and countryside even to its present level costs the taxpayer an estimated £1billion each year. That’s enough to pay for another 40,000 police constables, a couple of million hospital beds or thousands of libraries. Instead, we waste it on clearing up after fools.
This is one of the very few social problems in this country in which the answer lies — literally — in our own hands.
Individually, we can’t do much about the terrible state of the public finances, nor can we improve our schools or repair the roads. But we can decide not to throw rubbish about.
It’s not even as if we’re deciding to do something pro‑active. Just restraining ourselves a bit. Is it really so much of a big deal to decide to put our litter in the appropriate place?
You might think this issue doesn’t matter that much. Then consider this. None of us knows what will happen after we die, but we can be certain of one thing: our children will still be living amid the trash we dropped.
What a clean place the Britain of 1955 seems by comparison. Then, fish and chips came wrapped in newspaper, and if the paper was dropped, the rain quickly reduced it to pulp which rotted away.
Now, your fish supper comes on a plastic tray, often inside a plastic bag. That tray and bag will be around in a landfill site somewhere — if it’s not still stuck in a bush by the side of the road — long after William and Kate’s great-grandchildren have passed on.
Ask anyone who revisits Britain after a few years away what they make of the place, and they are certain to observe how much filthier the country has become. We are fouling our own nest. Most of us seem capable of containing ourselves when we need the loo. Why not some similar restraint when it comes to rubbish?
And if you don’t care about the state of the landscape, consider what this rubbish does to wildlife. Once the trash has been dumped, it blows about everywhere. Last year, the RSPCA dealt with 7,000 calls about animals, from cats to cows, who had been injured by eating plastic bags or cut by broken glass and tins.
Most of us do not harm animals or disfigure Britain deliberately, of course. It’s just thoughtlessness. So here are two suggestions for how we can improve this situation.
First, we all make a decision that we’re going to put our litter in a bin somewhere. We will need schools to promote the idea and councils to provide a lot more bins and to empty them regularly — an idea which runs counter to the current strategy of many local councils.
Second, the companies which generate this mountain of garbage in the first place need to acknowledge their own responsibilities.
They appear to think their responsibilities are discharged by printing a tiny plea not to drop litter or a fatuous logo signifying a bin on their packaging, but this clearly doesn’t work.
The remnants of our Cadbury’s snacks and Coca-Cola bottles are lying along the sides of the highways and byways of Britain, and because the manufacturers take care to make their packaging sturdy, the litter will lie there for years.
These companies will argue that they make gestures towards keeping the country clean. McDonald’s, for example, claims to spend money sweeping the street clean outside its various branches.
It’s true. They do clean a little stretch of pavement. The bare minimum necessary, I’d guess, for them to be allowed to continue trading. But as a means of dealing with all the packaging mess the restaurants churn out, it is utterly inadequate.
Last week, I was walking in the countryside at least 12 miles away from the nearest McDonald’s outlet (I’ve just checked on their brightly-coloured website). Nestling in the long grass under a beech tree was a paper cup which had once held a McDonald’s caramel milkshake.
Do the chief executives of these brands feel their hearts sink when they see their packaging brightening up our countryside?
Or do they secretly rejoice at all the free advertising? (Why spend money hiring Gary Lineker — sorry Gary — when Walker’s Crisps bags can be seen on the verges of almost every highway in the land?).
Alongside our own small, personal pledges not to mess up this beautiful land, we need a real commitment from the companies whose products disfigure our countryside to start acknowledging their responsibilities and spending a small fraction of their profits on doing something socially useful.
Only then will the Britain we all share be seen for the exquisite place it really is.
Courtesy of The Daily Mail. Original article here.