Not A Nation Of Wombles

Sticker graffiti near Borough Market, Southwark, London, England

Sticker graffiti near Borough Market, Southwark, London, England

I managed to catch up with last night’s BBC Panorama programme which featured author Bill Bryson examining the shocking state of litter in this country. It’s one of those sobering examinations which probably needs someone like Bill Bryson, an American who clearly has a soft spot for this island and who desperately wants to do what he can to somehow stem the ‘background noise’ of litter that is spread across Great Britain throughout the towns, cities and in the countryside.

Passing The Buck

The sad part was watching individual council’s and supermarkets passing the buck on responsibility for clearing up our mess & failing to enforce the stringent littering and fly tipping laws that are available to us in this country. In one example a concerned member of the public had to take independent legal action against his own local authority via an abatement order for not carrying out their duty in clearing litter in his own town.

Different But the Same

I have this pet theory about Britain, that there’s something slightly ramshackle and ungovernable about its people due to its resentment of any form of a nanny state. I can never quite work out whether Britain is just really good at apathy and buck passing or whether we’re just congenitally bad at management.


Join The Dots
It really irks me the way local authorities have different ways of applying the law across the country.It’s just ludicrous that we don’t seem to take litter seriously enough and if it’s even suggested that people should be heavily fined for dropping litter then our knee jerk seeming distaste for a ‘nanny state’ comes into play. But if nanny doesn’t nag us or encourage us to be better people us then we simply would not control our urge to do whatever the hell we like and that includes defacing this land with litter.

Try To Remember

Back in the day (play the old Hovis advert music, it’s flashback to my youth time) I worked in between my education during the summer for the local parks department. The public were always very keen to come up to anyone working in the park & chide them for not picking up some piece of litter they’d just seen. The official council line ,sobering though the point of view was, ran along the lines that they weren’t the ones dropping the litter. It was stalemate really. Very little seems to have changed in that a change of culture is still needed to stop litter being dropped and authorities need to treat the clearing of litter as a serious matter.

The programme can be watched again in the UK via the BBC iPlayer.

Photo by yersinia under this creative commons license.

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One thought on “Not A Nation Of Wombles

  1. One obvious answer to a member of the public asking why you didn’t pick up the litter is “If you are so outraged by it, why don’t you pick it up yourself?”

    If we are looking at “British faults”, we can add this one: When we see a problem, we always assume that someone else will deal with it.

    I think litter is part of a much bigger problem. This stems from the attitude that I can do as I like and no one has the right to challenge me. Why should I walk two steps to put my beer can in the bin when I can drop it here where I stand? Similarly, why should I give up my seat in the bus to an elderly person who has trouble standing? After all, it’s not my problem.

    That is the mantra of modern Britain: “It’s not my problem.” There will be someone else whose job it is to deal with it and clear up my mess.

    Attitudes don’t just happen: they are created. We can change them. Look how we have changed attitudes to smoking. I don’t think people quite grasp what a remarkable social change this has been, perhaps because it has been achieved gradually.

    If we put our minds to it, we can change other attitudes too so that people who drop litter will feel the same social reproach as someone who smokes on a bus. It will take time and it will also take determination.

    It is the latter that defeats us. We have become morally lazy. We weakly moan that “they” should do something about it and then we think about something else.

    Misquoting Abraham Lincoln, we can say that “A nation gets the litter it deserves.”

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