I came to this country from the Netherlands in 1989. It was supposed to be for one or two years, but I fell in love with the North West. The landscape, the people, the character of the society here. People I met were friendly. Many had some experience of my country. A common comment was “oh, the Netherlands, that is such a clean country! Your streets and parks are so clean”.
I would think yes, of course they are. You don’t want to see other people’s rubbish, and others don’t want to see yours or step in your discarded chewing gum, so you take it with you and dispose of it in a street bin or at home.
Attitudes to litter in the UK
And then I went to the cinema with a few friends. We all had popcorn and a can of pop while we watched the film. At the end if the film, I got up and collected my rubbish, an empty popcorn bucket and pop can. Seeing my friends had left their rubbish behind, I collected that as well. One of my friends asked: “What are you doing?” “Collecting the rubbish” I replied. “Why?”, she enquired. “Because I am going to put it in the bin, I am not leaving rubbish behind”. At which I was told: “Someone gets paid to tidy up the cinema, if everyone cleared their own rubbish away you would do them out of a job.”
I was gobsmacked. If you can carry litter into the cinema, you can carry it out! Nobody has to clean up after me, picking things off the floor that I have discarded. This attitude that you can just leave your rubbish wherever and somebody else will have to deal with it. It didn’t feel right to me.
Getting involved in litter picking
Fast forward to the present time, when I connected again with an acquaintance from 30-odd years ago. He is now one of the three Green Party councillors representing the Haydock ward of St Helens Borough Council. He posted on Facebook that he was arranging a community litter picking event in Haydock, to clean up a park near where I used to work.
And I thought why not? It will give me a reason to see the area again, and I can help clean up what used to be a really nice park, and maybe I’ll meet some old friends while I’m there. So I ordered myself a litter grabber’, put my wellies in the car, and showed up on the day.
There were a number of volunteers, and each of us filled at least one bin bag, mainly with empty cans, sweet wrappers, take-away boxes, and cigarette packs. It was a relaxed event, we strolled through the park, picking up rubbish on the paths, in the grass and in the bushes.
I met some people I used to know, which was nice. I met strangers as well. Some were nice, said thank you for cleaning up, and commented on how it shouldn’t be necessary since there are enough bins and they’re not full.
One or two people saw me and turned their heads and walked away, but I just said good morning and gave them a smile as I passed them.
Keeping it up whatever the weather?
I went again three weeks later and was disappointed to see how much rubbish was there again. It was centred around the benches and the bins, as if the person who discarded it had an idea where to put the stuff but didn’t quite get it right. Shame!
I am planning to go again but do fear I may turn out to be a good-weather litter picker. The idea of doing this in a muddy park with rain lashing down does not appeal to me. So we shall see.
For now it was a nice and productive walk in the park.