Twice a year I visit the UK to see my family that still live there, in the town I was born, raised, grew up in and started my working life in. Twice a year I get to note the differences between ‘home’ and home. Twice a year I get back ‘home’ with these differences gnawing away at me.
So what are these differences? The biggest, single thing that I’ve noticed is the amount of debris in the streets. That’s what I want to rant about here. Litter not just in the streets, but in the countryside too. Driving through the New Forest, I was absolutely staggered to note just how much rubbish there was strewn around. The ubiquitous New Forest Ponies were grazing at the sides of the roads, little more than country tracks, really, and I couldn’t even begin to count the numbers of plastic pop bottles. Empty crisp packets and plastic wrappers abound. What is that all about? This is a National Treasure, ladies and gentlemen. It’s somewhere to be proud of, to take your kids to, and marvel at the landscape, unchanged in millenia. It isn’t a dumping ground for your unwanted trash. It is a place to be nurtured, looked after and guarded jealously, because there’s nowhere else quite like it.
To take a photo, you have to look through the viewfinder and ‘see’ what else is in the shot. Then you have a choice. You either remove the rubbish strewn around by hand, collecting someone else’s cast-offs, bagging them up to be disposed of in a bin later. Or there’s Photoshop.
I prefer the former.
It wasn’t just the New Forest. Driving on the motorways, I was all too often distracted by the sheer volume of rubbish on the embankments, wondering how on earth it gets there? Do people just throw this stuff out of their car windows as they’re driving merrily along? Do they even stop to think what happens to it? In fact, what DO they think happens to it? Do they imagine an army of elves appearing to ‘magic’ it all away (to the New Forest) in the dead of night? Or, do they just think ‘someone’ else will do their dirty work for them?
Think about this logically. If everyone did as I do, there’d be a fortune saved on collecting this crap which may then go towards something more useful, like putting more policemen on the beat in your towns, or creating a few more beds in your hospitals. It may even go towards better lighting in areas that are targetted by muggers, thieves and rapists in YOUR towns.
So what is it that I do? it’s simple – I just collect MY rubbish and throw it in the passenger side footwell, or I carry a plastic carrier bag for the purpose and use a bin when I stop. Or, as is more usual, when I get home again, and then put MY rubbish in the bin there.
I suppose one of the problems is that there’s simply not enough bins around, and when there are, they’re already overflowing with human detritus. Packaging is one problem – there’s just too much of it. Less blister packed fast food, and more cellophane please? I know that when our eldest son worked for McDonalds for a short time in his youth, they had a rota for staff to scour the immediate environs for litter bearing their name, and to bag it up and bring it back to the store. That’s nice, and a responsible attitude to take. But what about the millions of fast food outlets in every town and city across the land? What’re they doing?
Another problem, and one I have personal experience of, is terrorism. Yes, terrorism. In many airports and train stations, as well as large shopping centres, you’ll now struggle to find somewhere to drop your litter. Why? because of the ‘threat’ of a bomb being hidden in the bins. It’s true. So, not only do we live in fear of an Islamic backlash on the ‘civilised’ western world, we have to drown in a tidal wave of crap created as a direct result of that fear, because as a society, we’re too scared to install bins on street corners anymore.
Also, there must be armies of men employed by local councils to try and keep the streets clean, yet here in France there’s usually just one or two employed by each commune, and they do litter collection on a very part-time basis. There just isn’t the same amount of it strewn about. Sure, there’s some – especially in the bigger towns, but nothing like the amount I’ve seen in the UK. And, in my opinion, the problem’s becoming worse each time I visit.
It has to start with the parents and the schools. It has to be a mindset instilled in the very young. But before that, we have to change the mindset of the generation that is currently creating the problem. How do we do that? I don’t have a clue – I’m just thankful that my parents taught me the values I grew up with, and passed on to my own kids. They, in turn I’m sure, will pass those values on to their own kids. It’s a start.
Until the next time, au revoir.