The litter extremists who want you to pick it up

The litter extremists who want you to pick it up

I hate litter. It makes me furious whenever I see a lazy, selfish prat spread their waste around the country. I really cannot stand it.

On the face of it, I might be a prime candidate to join the UK Volunteer Litterpicking Group. It's a strange choice of hobby, but I'm very grateful that this community of people takes it upon themselves to clear up Britain's filthy countryside.

Sometimes when you live in an area you grow used to it, but the British (and Irish) countryside is filthy. Every country has its unloved industrial landscapes, but Britain seems to have made this its default styling.

Partly that's because councils have no budget to take any pride in how they maintain or decorate our built environment. Mostly though, it's because people choose not to look after it.

Volunteer Litterpickers, then. A great group who do the dirty work that I'm too lazy to help with.

Except I'm really not keen on their strategy.

As well as picking up the litter, these people harass the businesses who allowed it to build up. Not the people who are dropping it, but the people who they want to pick it up.

The jury's out on that strategy. I totally understand that with many businesses, you won't get any action without nagging them. But for every victory, you also lose an ally. You need to be working with people, rather than irritating them.

On several occasions, I have seen members of the group either break the law or put themselves in danger in order to collect litter. Good for them. But they then act bewildered when the mutli-million pound businesses don't share that enthusiasm for trespass or putting people's lives in danger.

You see that a lot with campaign groups these days. It's effectively a failure to engage constructively.

A multi-million pound business is never going to send its staff out onto a motorway to pick up litter. Partly because the company can't be bothered, yes, I agree. But also because doing so would end with a serious court case and some terrible newspaper headlines.

Why not accept that Highways England can't dispatch its staff to the centre of a motorway as quickly as you can, and instead work with them on the places where they can make a difference?

Of course, my opinion doesn't matter to these people. I will be classed as a non-believer, a luddite, a spokesperson for the old ways.

Yet I see myself as a potential recruit who is disillusioned by this endemic unwillingness to listen.

Whatever your conclusion, we all need to wish these have-a-go heroes well. They're fixing our hideous countryside. I just wish they'd get people on side.

 
Tedious about the author bit

Travel historian, presenter, producer. I love the places people pass through along their journey.

I research and write about how our need to get around continues to shape our world through roads, railways, airports and whole new towns.

My thoughts and/or research have been published by the likes of Truck & Driver, BBC local radio, Daily Express, The Guardian, Mail Online and The Independent (detail).

I can't tell you how many toll booths I've been through. But it's a lot of toll booths.

Legally bland

Any similarities with real-life events or wealthy international firms is probably coincidental. No products endorsed. I'm powered by Monster Munch.

© 2021 Johnathan Randall.