How I Loathe Litter


One thing that is guaranteed to rile me in an instant is littering.  I know that I am not alone in hating this repulsive habit that some people have, but it doesn’t make it any less infuriating.  My blood boils when I see people casually tossing their cigarette packets and empty drinks cans onto the road/pavement/park/playground, especially as there is almost always a bin within visual distance.  Litter makes me so cross because it totally ruins what would otherwise be a pleasant place.  It is dangerous for children as they are curious and want to pick things up; not great when it frequently appears in the form of broken glass, rotting food and dog mess.  The thing that riles me the most about littering, is that I simply do not understand why people do it.

I have recently moved to an area of London which seems to be one massive dustbin.  (Merton Council, I hope you’re listening).  Every single local street is covered in all sorts of muck and crud.  The pavements are absolutely filthy, and I actually avoid going for local strolls with the kids because I find it so unpleasant.  Even my two and a half year old notices the rubbish and comments on it.  We resort to bundling into the car and heading out to more pleasant places – and I know the environmental impact of my extra car journeys is arguably just as bad, but I haven’t got the hours and man-power to pick up all the litter in the area to make it nicer for us to be in.

I don’t understand how people could have such a lack of regard for the area they live in and the people that share their environment.  What’s more, they’re not only littering everybody else’s environment, they’re also littering their own environment.  I often wonder if these people simply throw their litter on the floor at home, and I’ve come to the conclusion that they must do.

A recent example of some very local littering that occurred was a few weeks ago.  Our neighbours thought that it was perfectly acceptable to dump a lot of household waste (much of which could have been recycled – a service provided for free by the council) into refuse bags outside their house on bin-collection day.  Needless to say, the dustmen took one look at the contents and refused to collect it.  Clearly without a clue about what to do with the brim-full bins, my neighbours were witnessed getting their children to fly-tip the bins a few metres down the road in front of a fence, on the pavement.  So as well as committing the offence of fly-tipping (is it an offence?), they also created a disgusting eyesore, not to mention an obstacle for less-able people to negotiate around.  Somebody must have reported them (it wasn’t us, but we nearly did) and they were visited by the council.  They must have been instructed to remove the fly-tipped refuse immediately.

I feel baffled at the thought process that runs through a person’s mind when they make the decision to drop their litter, particularly as it is frequently in their own environment.  I decided to do a bit of research, and stumbled upon an article in Psychology Today by Anneli Rufus.  She had spoken to a representative from Keep America Beautiful called Rob Wallace, who had some theories on the motivation behind littering.  They go as follows:

“Wallace theorized that some people litter because they feel disenfranchised from society, that they feel powerless. I’ve heard this before, but I’ve yet to see how discarding snack wrappers onto the sidewalk instils a sense of power. Sure, maybe it’s an expression of anger, a look-at-me-I’m-not-invisible cri de coeur, serving much the same purpose as graffiti. I was here. But what’s the payoff? Wading through your own detritus?

Wallace also theorized that some people litter because they’ve come to believe that whatever they do, others will pick up after them. They have no sense of responsibility. This idea was confirmed by a veteranCalifornia highway patrolman who told me that in his twenty years-plus of pulling drivers over for tossing litter out their car windows — a misdemeanor punishable by fines of up to $1,000 — not once had an offender ever apologized once caught. They either denied having littered, the patrolman told me, or shrugged off the act as insignificant.”

Is this true?  Is this the real reason why people are ruining the place in which they live – because they’re angry at their life-situation or believe that their actions will always be covered by someone else?  Good grief, imagine if that psychology was applied to other aspects of our lives.

It just doesn’t cut it for me.  I wouldn’t say that I am 100% delighted with the life situation I am currently in.  I live with my husband and kids at my in-laws’ house, I quit the career that I spent gaining a university degree in because the cost-benefit of keeping the job didn’t balance with leaving two young children in full-time care.  It isn’t ideal for a young family, but I’m not about to go all crazy and start chucking the contents of my kitchen bin around because I’m angry.  I wasn’t brought up that way.

I honestly don’t believe that the sole reason people litter is down to deep psychological issues that are manifesting themselves in destructive habits.  I believe that people do it because they’re careless, inconsiderate and didn’t have anyone to tell them to behave better.  I’m aware that I’ve got a bee in my bonnet about this, but I really do believe that teaching our kids basic things like looking after their environment is so important.  I would be mortified if my children grew up to be awful, careless litterbugs.  Actually, I don’t even know if I like the phrase ‘litterbug’.  It makes the act of littering sound friendly and cute, when it is actually repugnant.  Granted, it isn’t on a par with first-degree murder, but it is dirty and foul, and I don’t want metaphorically dirty, foul children.

I realise that I am never going to be at peace with the filth that is litter, and the people that put it there.  I can do my best to teach my kids and influence my close peers (if they need it), but I will otherwise have to live in a world with empty wrappers and cigarette butts until the day I die.  How sad.


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