Thursday, May 03, 2007


Why Do People Drop Litter in our Beautiful Country?

Heartening news that Bill Bryson is the new president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England. As we all know Bryson is the ex pat American travel writer who has paid us the compliment of living in this small island. It so happens his obsessive complaint is the same as mine and my partner's: litter; we actually walk around our locality filling plastic bags with other peoples' rubbish. Bryson puts it thus:

"You have this beautiful countryside and yet it is increasingly filling up with scraps and detritus - things that people are throwing out of their car windows as they drive along....Fly-tipping in particular is a scandal and what is almost as much a scandal is that people are getting away with it."

Why do people behave like this? Jenni Russell gets close to it, it seems to me, in her article today. Russell provides examples of incivility based on a recent long train journey (to my alma mata, Aberystywth, as it happens): a woman who insisted on speaking very loudly on her mobile; a young man who lounged against a wall inside the Ladies toilet at Wolverhampton; and a young man who insisted his bag should occupy the nearby seat rather than people who were standing in the carriage. Russell explains the mobile monologist thus:

As far as she was concerned, she was free to do anything that wasn't explicitly forbidden, and the idea of worrying about its impact on others was completely foreign.

Everyone reading this will recognise how typical it is of modern day Britain. How does one combat this undeniable and depressing trend? The Conservatives are 'calling for greater social responsibility, with individuals being asked to intervene when those around them behave badly'. But this involves a degree of courage on behalf of people who may put themselves at risk of at best surly vituperation; at worst physical injury. As Russell points out:

Rude and inconsiderate behaviour is alarming because the message is that the perpetrator is defying convention, and we don't know how far they will go.

Litter dropping seems to fall into the same category of 'I'll do what suits me' behaviour. How does one combat it? Merely passing more laws seems futile if the basic values of respect and civility have not been inculcated. God knows, I love this country, but it's enough sometimes to make one consider emigration.

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