Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Do we really want to start paying people to clear up after themselves?

It's a wrapper: littering costs councils million of pounds
It's a wrapper: littering costs councils million of pounds

Want to make some quick and easy money? Head to Ballymena my friend, with a bundle of litter. Dander around the town and be seen to deposit your trash in the receptacles provided. That's my reading anyway of how to avail of a Ballymena council pilot scheme which is there to award "responsible binning of litter". (Can you have irresponsible binning of litter?)

The scheme, which has been running for three months already, involves what's described as "eagle-eyed" council staff patrolling the streets and looking out for examples of good litter management. Responsible citizens observed scooping their dog's poop or depositing their chip papers in the bin provided are given a card which they can then enter for a draw. Overall, they're in with a chance of winning a £50 voucher for either a pet shop or a supermarket.

Okay, so it's hardly Hector Riva and the Euro lottery. But it's the principle that grates. Should we really be paying people for not acting the maggot?

The council says it has had positive feedback on a scheme it describes as more carrot than stick – although more time is needed to see whether it can be deemed a success overall.

I suppose anything is worth a try. But surely the more obvious way to address our enduring litter problem is to target those actually creating the mess.

In carrot and stick terms what we would appear to require is less root vegetable and much, much bigger stick.

Rewarding people for cleaning up after themselves suggests, in a none too subtle way, that they're doing something above and beyond the call of duty that requires official recognition.

It does not.

Taking your own litter home or binning it or removing your dog excrement from a public path is hardly exceptional behaviour.

Littering, however, mindless, thoughtless littering, has become so commonplace, so unremarkable that a sizeable proportion of our populace seem to do it as second nature.

Like the middle-aged man in the posh car I saw pull up at the traffic lights the other day, open his car window and casually toss sweet wrappers out on to the street.

What the hell goes through someone's head when they think it's okay to drop their dirt in a public place? What contempt, not just for other people but for the public purse which is continually stretched financing the clean-up, with precious funding which should be channelled to other vital services.

Walk through just about any public park or scenic area in Northern Ireland and you will not miss the plastic bags of dog mess turfed into the hedges. Why do people do that? What is wrong with them? Wouldn't "eagle-eyed" council staff be more profitably employed patrolling pathways targeting these offenders rather than the responsible chip-paper disposer?

The litter fine (£80) is not exactly a powerful penalty. Augmented by a bit of public humiliation it might work better. I'm not advocating bringing back the stocks. Maybe just make offenders walk around town for a day with their dropped litter – of whatever awfulness – strung about their necks.

Extreme? Perhaps. But only if we overlook the hefty sums that are routinely and needlessly forked out in these parts on clean-up. Only if we disregard the knock-on effect on our increasingly important tourist industry.

There are streets near central Belfast with so much litter, rubbish and food wrappings blowing around them that they could pass for the set of a post-apocalypse movie.

That posh guy in his nice car I mentioned presumably doesn't see the connection between this manky state of affairs and his hasty disposal of sweetie papers. But it is precisely his attitude that lies at the very grubby root of our litter problem.

We need to change that mindset. And however well intentioned Ballymena's pilot scheme may be, I think it does exactly the opposite. Cleaning up should be par for the course. Not something you hope to do in the local council's anti-litter draw.

Garth's 'reaching' makes me retch

Before his concerts were conclusively cancelled, Garth Brooks, said he would crawl, swim or fly across the Atlantic and drop to his knees in front of Enda Kenny. And as if that wasn't enough to be getting on with, Brooks, according to one headline, had also been "reaching out" to the Taoiseach.

Please, no! Not reaching out! We don't need any of your reaching out in Ireland, Garth. The phrase has already infected everyday speech in America, where simple words like "contact" are apparently not deemed meaningful enough to convey what's meant.

I'm not the only one who dislikes "reaching out". In the internet's urbandictionary.com, it's described as an "unfortunately creepy term". Couldn't have put it better ...

Prudish reaction to childish image

Shock, horror in the kidswear department. A baby sleep suit has reportedly been withdrawn by one retailer following complaints that the design involved the image of a penis.

Sounds bad. But I've seen the pictures. And you honestly have to study very intently to make out the offending squiggle. Even more bizarrely, the clothing firm "explains" that this design was meant to represent a jumper on a washing line but the printer over-simplified it.

Into a penis? Sometimes you really do feel there are people out there with far, far too much time on their hands. And that we really haven't come that far from the days when prudish, ultra-careful Victorians were reputed to have covered even their table legs to avoid offence.

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