Irish Daily Mail
The litter that ruins our towns doesn’t just appear: it’s put there, deliberately, by disgusting yobs
BACK in November I walked out of my apartment block one morning and there, on the walkway right outside the front door, was a collection of cigarette butts. Probably about 20 or more in total, those rollie ones with no filters. I was stunned. Someone had obviously deposited them there deliberately, right outside the door. I had come across a few similar looking butts lying there before, in ones and twos, but this was an all-time high.
I was in a rush that morning so, other than fume about it, I did nothing. Perhaps it had been an accident, I even considered for a moment the person responsible had just gone inside to get a brush and dustpan to sweep them up.
No such luck. When I returned later they were still there, more scattered now because of a breeze that had sprung up.
So, because I couldn’t bear to look at them, or keep walking over them, I went inside and got my own dustpan and brush, came back out, swept them up, and took them straight to the bins.
When I came back into the entrance area again I then noticed what I hadn’t spotted earlier as, in my fury, I had stormed in to fetch my brush.
It was a note pinned to the board. A hand-written note. And all in capital letters.
‘Please do not drop cigarette butts outside. It is rude, thoughtless and ignorant.’
Whoever wrote it (almost definitely a woman) hadn’t signed it or indicated their own apartment number. If they had, I would have knocked on their door and said, well done. Rude. Thoughtless. Ignorant. Yes, that’s just about spot-on for the butts vandal.
The same goes for the people who take their post out of their letter-boxes in the entrance hall and discard all the promotional leaflets that find their way in there. Instead of taking them to their own apartment and putting them in the appropriate bin, they just toss them on top of the letter-box unit.
Why on earth would you do that? Do they think that they are just going to magically disappear? And don’t they consider for one moment that they are creating an eyesore, that it makes what is a very well-kept area look scruffy?
Being the eejit that I am, inevitably I am the one who gathers up the offending leaflets and deposits them in my own recycling bin. But I resent doing it. Rude. Thoughtless. Ignorant. Yes, in my book, that just about sums up people who think that it’s okay to litter the environment, be that the great outdoors, or simply somewhere that is a shared space with other human beings.
Yesterday’s litter findings, as established by the Irish Business Against Litter survey, showed that 40% of our towns (of those surveyed) were judged to be cleaner than the European average.
Now, while that’s good news, the obvious corollary of that is that 60% were dirtier. And even worse, when it comes to our cities, it’s a far from pretty sight with chunks of Dublin, Cork and Galway all deemed ‘littered’ and Limerick falling into the ‘seriously littered’ category. Those are our showcase cities, and the places that give many visitors their first impressions of Ireland.
And the problem is, litter breeds litter. There’s an area that I walk past every morning that was all spruced up by the local council a couple of months ago.
Although beside a main road (and a bus stop), it is very nicely planted, with oodles of that brown bark spread between the shrubs and all over the more open space.
It looked great. For about a week. Then the first plastic bottle appeared, sticking out of one of the bushes. Then more plastic. Then cigarette packets and other discarded packaging.
It’s what is known as the ‘broken windows syndrome’, a mode of behaviour established by social scientists James Wilson and George Kelling back in the 1980s. Essentially it means that people are more likely to break a window, scrawl graffiti across a wall and generally deface the environment if the area is already defaced.
So if someone walking along with an empty cigarette packet in their pocket happens to see that another piece of packaging has already been tossed into someone’s front garden then they are more likely to throw their own packet in as well.
What gets me about people who think nothing of littering the place is that they are so sneaky. You’ll never hear anyone confessing to having thrown sweet wrappers out of their car window.
You’re unlikely to even witness it because those who do it wait until there’s no other car in the vicinity. Which means, of course, that they know exactly what they are doing. That it’s unacceptable. Yet they do it anyway.
The same with general littering. You rarely catch anyone in the act. And yet people with gardens that front on to a footpath invariably spend many a morning picking plastic bottles and other packaging out of their rose bushes or from under their trees. Deposited there by people who happened to be walking past – and waited until nobody was around before desecrating someone’s private space.
What is particularly galling at the moment, and is, from my personal observations, something of a new trend, is the dog pooh syndrome.
No, not dog pooh on the pavement as such, but little plastic bags full of pooh that are then deposited on the edge of the pavement, beside the post-box, or at the foot of a tree. Actually placed there.
So someone has taken the trouble to carry the bags with them, as they should, has lifted the offending deposit when it is delivered and then, well, seems to think that it’s perfectly all right to just leave the bag sitting there, wherever the notion takes them. What kind of mentality justifies that?
Litter doesn’t arrive somewhere by itself. Someone takes the conscious decision to put it there.
Decides that no, they can’t be bothered carrying it the extra few hundred yards to the rubbish bin or to their own house, so they just offload it where they can.
And if that happens to be in your front garden then it’s you who is responsible for the litter in question. With the offender having long scarpered, it’s you who risks being fined if you don’t clear it up. That’s the law.
The same law which states that if a litter lout is actually caught in the act then they are liable for an on-the-spot fine of €150.
That should be doubled. Or even trebled.
For only when litter louts are hit in the pocket will they learn that until they reach a rubbish bin, or make it home, then that’s precisely where their sweet papers and cigarette packets have to stay.