Take your park litter with you

Food wrapper litter

Cycling around Earlswood, Redhill and the common last week, it was easy to think “When the rearranged Great British Spring Clean happens in September, will there be any litter left to collect?”

Even today, some of the usual spots where litter congregates, such as the path parallel with the A23 that links Earlswood to the hospital roundabout, have minimal rubbish.

Reigate and Banstead’s green spaces teams have clearly been busy in these long littered spots, including one on the park on Brambletye Park Road, sometimes in response to reports of rubbish. Reports are easy to make.

Lockdown has meant fewer people lingering. Sadly, several of the beauty spots of Redhill and Reigate have been left strewn with litter over the weekend, shattering the peace among the disgusted on social media – and rightly so.

Equally, direct approaches to the council leader about why the council hadn’t done anything about a combination of swimming, drinking and littering at Mercer’s Lake, resulted in a simple response: this is happening everywhere. Furthermore, it’s dragging staff away from the pandemic.

It’s great to know, of course, that we have a green spaces team which is out there picking up litter: but isn’t it infuriating that they are so busy?

The first time I organised a little pick in Redhill, one man who read my poster emailed me not to volunteer, but with a chastisement: why should I bother organising others to litter pick? It’s the council’s job. My response, afterwards, was 10 pointed and included a phrase along the lines of: “How big do you want your taxes to be?”

For many reasons, I enjoy taking part in community litter picks. It’s not that I like the thought of clearing up after other people, or that I want to clear up after others. It’s that the litter is there and it shouldn’t be, however it got there. It might have blown out of bins. It might have come out of vehicles. It might have been dropped, deliberately or accidentally. It just might have been left behind.

For me, it is about taking pride in our community – our streets and open spaces – rather than living in untidy ones. It is also about protecting wildlife. Litter travels, blown by wind, until it meets a hedgerow or particularly water, where it sticks.

Mostly plastic, this light litter will gradually break down and be eaten by creatures. Clearing little also serves to highlight to others that seem oblivious that it doesn’t magically disappear. Is it about education? The BBC’s Blue Planet and Sky’s Ocean Rescue campaign have helped to highlight the plight of creatures suffering from plastic litter.

This weekend, not locally – fortunately – we have witnessed how sparks from barbecues, the type designed to be disposable, have acted as the tinder needed to start a fire. Moorland fires have been blamed on barbecues and litter. While commenting on one blaze this morning, a fire officer said he had driven behind someone who had thrown a cigarette from a car window.

This is common on bridges across the Thames and other rivers. People think it reasonable to discard cigarettes into water. Unfortunately, they contain plastic and fish and other creatures will nibble at them, ingest them and – in places where they are part of our food chain – become part of us. At present, with ground so dry, cigarette butts could easily start a fire on land.

Perhaps the pathways of litter can be one of the many aspects that Teach the Future can embed into our education system. Education might be the key to people taking responsibility for their own actions, either when they grow up or through nagging their parents when they go out.

It is all very well for Surfers Against Sewage, another of the campaigns listed within, to get people to send a picture of rubbish and “return to offender”, being the manufacturer. The idea, in part, is that manufacturers design materials that degrade, or are reusable so they are not left behind.

But the finger needs to be pointed also at the people who leave the litter on the beaches – or more locally last weekend, in our parks.

A few more bins around Earlswood Lakes might help – there are several near the cafe but none further up the grass alongside where people tend to have picnics. But ultimately people need to think “would I live in a mess at home?” and take responsibility by taking their rubbish away with them. Do we really need signage up to ask as much? It’s not so much education as common sense. And common decency. Should you really need telling?