Diary of a lone litter picker: why do people throw litter?

Daily Mail Online

Sophie Neville on a beach clean – photo copyright Daily Mail

Why litter? It is illegal. Why is rubbish chucked out of vehicles passing through an area like the Lake District, where jobs and businesses depend on the beauty of the surroundings?

Is littering an instinctive reaction? Early man must have dropped what he didn’t need without a second thought. Hunter-gatherers are active agents of seed dispersal, spitting out seeds and chucking vegetable matter away as they walk about. Do we, as humans, improve our chances of survival by discarding unwanted items that weigh us down?

My peers counter this. In answer to my question, they say:

  • ‘I care for the environment. It angers me when people don’t do the same!’
  • ‘Pure laziness, they think, ‘Oh well, the local authorities employ someone to clear up behind me and throw rubbish out of vehicles as they drive along while on their mobiles.’
  • ‘Smokers mindlessly drop the cellophane, then the butt, then the packet…’
  • ‘Selfishness and laziness, with no love for nature.’
  • They feel entitled.
  • ‘No respect for the environment, other people or themselves.’
  • ‘Smokers are by far away the worst. Cigarette butts are litter.’
  • ‘Bitterness. They feel let down by society and have given up caring.’
Rubbish - cigarette butts
  • ‘Combo of laziness and the belief that somebody else will be around to pick up after them. My father once threw a candy wrapper on the ground on my college campus. I picked it up and stuck it in my pocket for later disposal. He saw me and asked, “Did you pick that up?!” I said, “Yes.” And I never saw him throw trash on the ground again.’
  • ‘Mindless behaviour. Education is needed: education, education.’
  • Littering – or taking responsibility for rubbish – is a learned activity.
  • Keep Britain Tidy’s litter ambassador Jim Honeychuck quotes an academic paper: ‘There’s a kind of scale. On the one end you get mindless littering by those with little or no mind like junkies, drunks, and toddlers. At the other end you see deliberate, bloody-minded littering, as in holding litter until there is a clean area to foul. That’s a sign of hatred for the community, and perhaps for oneself. (“This is how I see my life, a mess…”) The behaviour at those two ends of the scale can’t be influenced much. In between are those who have always used the floor as a bin, those who would use a bin if there were one, those who use “virtual” litter bins, like planters, walls, the top of shrubbery… That is where improvement can occur.’
  • ‘Some people need a lead; the more good examples set, the better it will be.’
  • Producers could help by using bio-degradable wrapping.

Now that plastic pollution has become a worldwide problem, endangering wildlife and threatening marine fish stocks, we need to guard against litter and pick it up. Every year the RSPCA is called out to rescue thousands of animals caught in rubbish. One cigarette stub will pollute seven litres of water. While collecting litter costs millions of pounds a year, it costs us nothing to bend down and collect a few items a day.

Could you collect litter or go on a beach clean? It can be fun! You get to keep fit, walk the dog and make a huge difference. The finds often prove interesting. I have quite a collection of tennis balls and come across lost or stolen items that have been returned to grateful owners. Keep Britain Tidy have advice on safety and useful kit here: www.keepbritaintidy.org


Rubbish - litter heroes ambassadors logo (2)


Filed under Sophie Neville, truelife story, Uncategorized

21 responses to “Diary of a lone litter picker: why do people throw litter?

  1. John Bainbridge

    Quite agree. We often drive along the A66 in Cumbria and see the council workmen risking their lives to pick up litter.

    • You are right: collecting litter from road verges can be dangerous. You get dizzy when bending, which can make it tricky driving home too. Do you go litter picking?

      • John Bainbridge

        We still do on a casual basis, though during my time as head of a conservation charity I organised many. Everyone should help if they can, and the education message is vitally important to get across. People just shouldn’t litter..

  2. Roger Lake

    There is a lovely little book (available on Amazon) entitled “The Day The Ocean Went Away” which you might enjoyed. It is aimed at educating children to not simply throw rubbish (particularly plastic) away.

  3. Sadly, I think most people don’t even think about it; it’s completely unconscious.

  4. I collect rubbish from the lane I travel daily: I tried to imagine the litter louts… https://ossjay.wordpress.com/2013/02/27/rubbishy-tales/ Hope you like them:)

  5. They should be made to see how dangerous it is for farm animals and wildlife by being shown graphic examples in the flesh – that would stop some of them (but not all unfortunately). It’s basically mindless folk who do it though…

    My mother once saw some kids in the Outer Hebrides eating sweets and throwing each wrapper on the ground. Each time they did it, she picked each wrapper up (singly) and put it in the nearby bin. In the end, they were shamed into doing it themselves. This was about 20 years ago now though – you’d probably get a kick in the face by today’s yobs nowadays!

  6. We visited Arne RSPB reserve (Poole Harbour) yesterday. As he exitted the car park at around 16:30, the driver of a maroon car, having presumably enjoyed the natural surroundings on his visit, deposited his carefully thought-out offering of a sweet wrapper out through his car window. That’s what you/we are up against; constant, casual indifference.

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