So, this is it, just 7 days after the last weekly litter pick, the sum total of waste collected within a 500-yard radius of our offices in Stratton on the edge of Swindon. With the exception of a broken hub cap, every item in this picture has been wilfully dropped by someone who had the strength to carry it when the contents were full, but decided to dump it once consumed. A passer-by commented: “That’s the trouble with plastic, it doesn’t break down.” This stopped me in my tracks because this comment was made in such a way as if to say “If only plastic were to decompose then it would solve the problem of litter.” Which, if this is the case completely misses the point and brings into question people’s understanding of biodegradable material. Is biodegradable material in fact, in the eyes of some a licence to litter the countryside? It’s as if the whole point of making something biodegradable gives the consumer one less thing to think about, one less responsibility to dispose of it properly, the very opposite of what it is intended to do.
As someone who has a vested interest in paper and paper products, it would be all too easy to blame plastic and label it as the enemy and the scourge of man-made materials. Perhaps with the exception of single-use plastics, plastic is our friend – it keeps our food fresh and helps make it last longer, air bags made from plastic save lives in the event of a car accident and blood destined for a life-saving transfusion is transported in plastic pouches.
But the problem isn’t whether or not something is recyclable, re-usable or biodegradable, although these are all good things. The problem is litter and it’s people who create litter. Individuals need to take responsibility for their actions and not blame the Council, other people or the wind. Which, if it was blowing in the other direction this morning might just have sent the plastic bottles and crisp bags a mile up the road in South Marston, where help is at hand from Swindon-based Recycling Technologies – now there is real hope