Clean Public Spaces: State-Sponsored Campaigns

Reader Contribution by Junkwize
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Whilst enjoying my Easter break recently, I was lucky enough to enjoy the setting of numerous small coastal towns. The weather was incredible and the streets looked very smart indeed. I wasn’t surprised to see a few locals quietly beam with pride upon seeing my jaw drop at the beauty of the places I was visiting. What struck me as the tourists descended upon these towns, though, was the rate at which waste gathered. It was both shocking and fascinating to watch as quiet little streets were transformed from being idyllic and picturesque to being dumping grounds for hotels and holiday home owners.

On a brighter note, I also noticed in two of these small towns that there was a willingness amongst local residents to get their hands dirty and clean up other peoples litter. This was most apparent on the beaches where I was told that on a weekly basis a range of volunteers all come out with black bin bags to spend an hour chatting with their friends whilst picking up all sorts of flotsam and jetsam. Usually these groups are made up of about twenty people – young and old – and in the space of one hour they nearly always fill at least 10 black bin bags full of rubbish. This is then taken away to be sorted out and recycled accordingly.

So what did I take away from this? Well, it showed me that people were happy to put in a bit of effort correcting the wrongs of others if it meant that the spaces they love and cherish remain unspoilt. So whilst it’s sad that they are forced to do this, it’s also reassuring to know that people actually will act. Given the serious problems with rubbish in our countryside wherever tourism plays a big part, this is a vitally important character trait to foster and encourage.

The beautiful area of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs in Scotland illustrates the problem very well. Being relatively near large population centres like Glasgow, it is hugely popular in the summer. But it has been reported in recent years that rubbish has become a genuine problem, with picnic and camping equipment just left to rot by the roadside.

This got me thinking whether a new national campaign was needed to push rubbish to the forefront of people’s minds when they’re in the countryside. In Britain we have a couple of organisations which aim to do this in the form of Keep Britain Tidy and Clean Up Britain, yet these have never truly left a proper mark on people’s consciousness like other campaigns have. What would perhaps work would be to piggy back, so to speak, on the success of the ‘5 a day’ programs found globally which aim to encourage us to eat more healthily. The aim would be to encourage people on their scenic walks to just pick up 5 bits of litter. Something like this could have a massive impact even if it only changed the behaviour of 5% of people.

But are there any other options available which could help lessen the rubbish problem in our rural landscapes? Well, not really. Fines have aimed to stop the problem, but short or living in an Orwellian land filled with security cameras, these are virtually impossible to be able to enforce on any meaningful scale. So it really does come down to just educating people and encouraging them to do the right thing; to think about the consequences of their actions. The only way to do this right now, it seems, is through awareness campaigns.