Are the English Lazy Litter Louts?

My personal experience forces me to draw the conclusion that at least a portion of us are. Why? Taking a walk about the country lanes around where I live, I will always find a trail of litter that has been tossed from car windows and left to rot (assuming it is a material that will) on the woodland verges; I have noticed that unless you walk the lanes you don’t always notice the litter, that if you go buy in a car you only ever see a small portion of the amount of litter that is really there.

And what kind of litter do I come across? It is usually related to convenience food so all the big brand names are there: Pepsi, Coca-Cola, MacDonalds, KFC, Walkers (crisps), Cadbury, Nestle, Special Brew, Carling, Fosters, sandwhich wrappers from places like Boots and a whole host of other big brand goods. Plastic bags from all the major supermarkets are usually plentiful too. It does make me wonder whether these companies should be made to pay an additional waste tax, the proceeds of which are spent solely on litter collection? Unfortunately, I don’t see that ever becoming a reality. Of course, these companies can argue that the individual is responsible, and with this I completely agree and think that dropping litter should be dealt with much more forecfuly and the option of fining people always used until the population get into a mindset of not dropping litter. But I still think there must be greater corporate responsibility and a really visible and constant lead from corporate bodies in tackling the problem.

I live on the East Sussex/Kent border, close to Tunbridge Wells, so perhaps it is inevitable that with a large urban population close at hand that litter dropping and fly-tipping is going to be a problem (I hear the cry go up that I am anti-urban; this is not the case, but I often find that our urban areas particularly suffer from dropped litter and am therefore led to the conclusion that some of the urban English population don’t give a second thought to throwing litter from their car windows as they wizz around the countryside)

What really annoys and frustrates me about this is that it would be just as easy for a person to hold on to their rubbish and to place it in a bin on reaching their destination, rather than throwing it out of the window. So why don’t people do this? What drives them to lob their waste from the window? Do human beings suffer from a psychological disfunction that leads them to defile the landscape in which they live? On that note, is this just an English or British problem or is it global? I know that I occasionally have readers from Italy, the USA, South Africa and elsewhere so I would be interested to hear whether your rural landscapes are treated by some as a large waster/litter/trash/rubbish dumps? If so, then is humanity destined to realise the fiction of the Wall-E landscape?

It would also be interesting to hear from those of you who live in more rural areas around the UK as to whether you experience the same problem? Does proximity to a large urban area equate to greater littler or is it just as bad in places where there is no substantial urban settlement nearby? If the latter is the case then we would have to conclude that portions of the rural population are also guilty of the indiscriminate dropping of litter and should be targeted just as strongly by the anti-litter campaign, corporate bodies, and the law.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) are running a campaign to highlight the problem of litter and fly-tipping in the countryside. Bill Bryson, the chairman of the CPRE, has given the campaign a much needed boost in the media but I wonder if it is enough and whether people will really listen? Given that the campaign started back in 2007 (read an article here) and that the problem, certainly in my area is no better, I fear not.


18 responses to this post.

  1. I live in a rural area, and I think the litter problem here is horrible. I have been to different parts of the country where the litter problem is almost non-existant, though. These areas are beautiful, and the people are very much aware of their part in keeping it that way. So, I think it depends a lot on the pride of the land taught as children. I have stopped people that I’ve seen littering and made them go pick it back up! But, I’m not sure I recommend this – it has the possibility of being dangerous.


    • Hi Holley, thanks for you comment. Pride is certainly key and some communities do care far more for their environment than do others. Asking people to pick up litter can be a risky affair, I guess you just have to judge it by the individual and hope they don’t turn out to be too hot headed! Jason.


  2. I’m from South Africa, and we have the same problem here. I do believe it is a global problem.


    • Hi Ferdi. It certainly seems so, but to varying degrees. Are you rural or urban and is the problem consistently the same across the country do you think? Jason.


  3. Americans are terrible litterers. I go a little crazy when a see someone unwrap a candy and then drop the wrapper on the sidewalk. When I go hiking I always bring a bag to pick up the trash I find.


    • Americans are not the only ones Lisa; I see plenty of wrappers being discarded here. One thing that especially annoys me is when people do it on the train as there are always bins in the carriages; it is nothing but laziness and extremely irritating. It also makes the travelling experience less pleasant when there is rubbish left on seats and tables. Jason.


  4. I live in a rural area and we seem to have very little amount of garbage (litter) on the sides of the road. We have a program in the States called “adopt a road”. This is where companies or organization adopt a section of the road and are responsible for keeping it litter free. Additionally on our interstate system and major roads they use prison labor to pick up the litter. Also, there are fines for people who throw litter out of their cars of course that is only enforceable if a policeman would see it happen but perhaps the fact that there is a fine is a deterrent.


    • I like the sound of the ‘adpot a road’ scheme Karin. I haven’t heard of a similar thing here but it would certainly be a good idea, as would making convicts tidy up the streets. Again, I’m not sure if it is something that is done here, I’ve certainly never seen it being done and, as with so many things, the political will needs to be in place for something like that to get started and I am not sure if it is at the moment. I am pleased to hear that live somewhere that tackles litter and I hope it has an influence elsewhere. Jason.


  5. Posted by Nell Jean on May 30, 2011 at 18:12

    Our USA county has strict dumping rules. Roadsides are littered in every direction, with paper cups, plastic bottles, liquor bottles, take-out trays, dirty disposable diapers, dog food bags, even old tires despite the laws. Our dog has found whole trays of frozen chicken breasts and pork chops on the roadside, a real mystery.

    There is a sign as you turn on the ten-mile road that leads from town to our house that says something like ‘Littering destroys beauty.” I’d like to see signs that call it as I see it: “Trashy people throw trash out the car window,” or “Take your garbage home where it belongs.”

    I watched in disbelief one day as a woman tossed her empty drink cup almost at my feet as their vehicle sped by. It is as if they have no respect for themselves, certainly not for others, and delight in showing their disdain for a clean roadside.


    • Frozen meat is a strange thing to dump! Someone must be going hungry somewhere. And it is interesting to hear from you Jean how badly the law is ignored. I think the law has to be enforced quite strongly with this sort of thing otherwise it is ineffective. At the bottom of it all though, people need to take responsibilty for their actions, without which the problem will surely only continue to exist. You should make that sign and stick it up, could work wonders! Jason.


  6. South Africa’s national ‘flower’ was the plastic supermarket bag, trapped against wire fences, flapping in the breeze till shredded. Then we banned free plastic bags. Bring your own, or pay. Now the national flower has quietly returned.

    It is weird how people lob their garbage out the window, in the sea or the river. Throw it ‘away’ just so it’s no longer on MY Space. Then teams go out, and collect the garbage discarded along the national roads.


    • Hi there, thanks for your comment. Plastic bags are a blight here also. There has been some effort to reduce plastic bag usage but nowhere near enough. Plastic bags are still readily available at most supermarkets with few companies actually applying a charge. A tougher stand needs to be taken I have little faith that it will. Jason.


  7. I see some litter where I live in suburban Phildelphia, U.S., but very few people actually littering. It is definitely not socially acceptable. There is absolutely no litter on the small island where my family vacations in Maine. Everyone knows everyone else and wouldn’t dare litter on someone’s property. I think litter is partially due to lack of community.


    • I agree Caroline, a sense of community and civic pride is important and the fear of being shamed by the community if caught doing something that is unacceptable must be a great deterrent. Throwing litter out of car windows is often anonymous which I think is why some people do it, though I still don’t understand their logic and why they just don’t hold on to it until they get to somewhere with a bin! Jason.


  8. Litter is a pet hate of mine. Here in Brittany it is not a big problem so we really notice it when we come back to visit the shores of the UK. Such a shame but l really don’t know what can be done anymore.
    Great blog by the way.


    • Hi Trevor, thanks for commenting and glad you like the blog. It’s such a shame to notice how bad things are when you’ve been away. Christina does say below that Italy is worse but that is no compensation: ideally we would want to be able to go anywhere and find that littering wasn’t a problem and to return home to find it equally litter free. I think that so long as we rely on convenience and pre-packaged food the problem will persist. Jason.


  9. What can I can about the view from Italy? Sadly its much worse here, when I’m back in the UK its one of the things I notice – how clean the roadsides are. Here almost everyone drops litter throws it out of their car windows or actually fly-tips their larger household appliances. It is such a shame as there are so many wild flowers to enjoy on the roadsides and they just get burried. It is difficult to find the correct place to take rubbish not like most UK towns where there is a municipal dump where you can take all kinds of waste. You’ve rather got me going here as it is one thing I really detest. My husband somethings picks up the litter someone’s just dropped and says I think you dropped soemthing, here! I dread the day when he’ll be knifed for his pains. Christina


    • Hi Christina, I am surprised that Italy is so bad! I think that the way Italy is usually portrayed (with the exception of Naples where there always seems to be news of rubbish heaping up because of strike action) is as a pristine landscape rather than one strewn with rubbish. But your comment does raise the issue of adequate provision of waste facilities; I guess that without that people will not only dump their rubbish wherever but the mindset of indiscriminate littering will become endemic amongst the population. Jason.


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