Tim’s Cups, Candy Wrappers and Poo Bags

Photo: Toronto City Life 2009/07/14

Photo: Toronto City Life 2009/07/14

On my first visit to London, I quickly spotted a cultural difference between North America and the UK. There is much less of an eat-on-the-run mentality. Where I travelled, there were no drive-throughs for coffee or fast food. Even in areas full of people on the move, such as subway stations, most customers ordered a coffee or snack and sat down at Costa or Nero to eat it. I felt very much the exception when I ordered a take-out Flat White or muffin. Consequently, there are few to no garbage and recycling bins in public areas. Most people don’t need them, and otherwise, the expectation is that you take your food wrappers home or to your office with you.

Compare to where I live: half the people I know buy drive-through coffee shop items or fast food on a daily basis. Most are making healthier choices than they did in the past. A certain contingent would say they are too busy to prepare breakfast, so they stop on the way to work. And some are ferrying their kids to activities in the evenings, so they grab dinner on-the-go and eat in the car or at their destination. It wouldn’t be at all unusual to see a family eating a meal out of McDonald’s bags in a school corridor while waiting for their appointment at a parent-teacher meeting, for example. Correspondingly, there is an assumption that every public building has garbage and recycling bins.

After moving into my house a dozen years ago, I was distressed at the amount of litter in my neighbourhood. There is a high school almost across the street from me. Its parking lot is full every day, and the students and teachers park their cars all along my street and other nearby roads. I sussed out that while probably only 10% of the student population drives a car to school, one of the perks is that they can take their friends out for fast food at lunch time. Because of time constraints, and limited seating at the restaurants, they like to hang out in their cars, and rush back to school at the last minute.

I am sure that if I dared confront any high school student about their trail of litter, they would express surprise, and say they didn’t notice the paper cups and food wrappers falling out of their car, or they accidentally dropped them in their haste. They might say there is nowhere to put them. Or they would just say, “Oops, sorry!” and keep going. Ultimately, though, everyone expects that garbage cans will be available at the entrances to the school property, but there are none. How realistic is it that the students will place their trash in a bag inside their car, or carry it by hand into their school? Not!

After more observation, I saw that high school students were not the only source of the problem. On garbage and recycling days, homeowners have to put their garbage in clear bags and place them at the sidewalk any time after 7 pm the night before pick-up. By the time garbage is collected, it is often 2 pm. In the meanwhile, crows and gulls come along and pull the bags apart. Even though most homeowners properly use the municipal composting system, all it takes is an unwashed food wrapper to attract wildlife. The first time this happened to me, I was mortified. I cleaned up all the shreds that were strewn over my lawn, and rebagged them for the next garbage day.

My neighbours don’t always share my fastidiousness. A couple of times, I have come home to find the street covered in garbage, the homeowner refusing to acknowledge it came from their property, and just leaving it there. As in forever!

You know my problems with my absentee neighbour? (There is a vacant house next door). In mid-December, the owner visited the property briefly and put out a bag of paper recycling. I knew I wouldn’t see my neighbour again for at least 6 weeks because she only checks on her property occasionally. I could not understand why birds pulled apart her bag of paper. Realizing no one would respond to it, I stopped by to clean it up, only to realize she had thrown a bunch of stinky disposable diapers in with her paper recycling – gahh! I was tempted to call and give her a piece of my mind but it was Christmas time and she is home with a new baby and I decided to let it go. (I will speak to her about it the next time we see each other in person). But it was a good example of how the average person doesn’t think about their trash at all beyond “putting the garbage out.”

Seen everywhere...

Seen everywhere…

Finally, we have the dog walkers. Living in suburbia, everyone takes their dogs out for morning and evening constitutionals around the block. Happily, the owners are really good about bringing along plastic bags and cleaning up after their dogs. However, instead of bringing their poo bags home, they look for garbage cans on public property that they can throw them into. The neighbourhood has only two tiny receptacles, which are emptied by the city once a week. Lately I’ve walked by and found that the dog walkers, upon finding the little garbage bins full, will simply drop the poo bags on the ground underneath, and leave them there!

So what are the solutions? Here’s my list of “higher level” options:

  • Move toward a lifecycle approach to garbage, in which manufacturers are responsible for their product packaging. Where I live, progress toward this is minimal. One of the biggest offenders, Tim Horton’s coffee chain, runs anti-litter messages and offers a 5-cent reduction on coffee prices if you bring a travel mug. But that’s it.
  • Introduce fines for littering. Actually, these do exist, but police have better things to do than to ticket 16-year-olds for dropping candy wrappers. They are reserved for the worst cases, such as video footage of trucks dumping old appliances into the forest.
  • Change the culture so that “slow food” and real food and home cooked food are valued. This is making headway among adults who take the time to make this a priority. It’s having little impact among people who see themselves as busier than average (such as some parents with kids in sports leagues, or office workers with 30-minute lunch breaks).
  • Develop promotions encouraging better behaviour. “Don’t be a litter bug” campaigns had an impact in the 1970s, but something new is needed. Some people react to images of environmental distress; others to cool and clever marketing tricks.
  • Eliminate fees for garbage and recycling pickup. In my city, residences have pick-up as part of their tax-paid services. All other properties (commercial and public) have to pay for it. Therefore, many don’t provide waste or recycling bins indoors or out, because their costs increase with the amount of waste that is picked up.
  • Mandate garbage bins at civic places where people congregate. Link tells me that all bus stops in Toronto are required to have bins; here we only have them at bus terminals. Similarly, Canada Post has refused to place recycling bins for junk mail at their superboxes, stating it is the residents’ responsibility to bring unwanted mail back to their homes.

Meanwhile, I am bothered about litter every time I walk to and from work, i.e., daily. I can’t let myself get eaten up with anger, but I want to do something rather than nothing. So here is what I am doing:

  • Reduce the amount of packaging that comes into my home from any source. Refuse to buy products that are especially wasteful, like bottled water or ramen in Styrofoam cups (or single servings of any packaged foods, really).
  • Place my garbage bags in a bin on garbage day, or cover them with an old sheet/blanket/tarp. The more residents on the street who do this, the more it will be noticed by others and the practice will spread. I hope? (In rural areas, wildlife is a known problem, so a lot of residents have constructed elaborate wood shelters for their garbage bins next to the street!)
  • Pick up all litter that drifts onto my own property. Never leave it there and wait for the wind to blow it down the street.
  • Ensure that I don’t accidentally litter by not having lightweight trash, such as food packaging, on the floor or seats of my car, that could fall out into a parking lot or on the street.
  • Take full responsibility for disposing of everything I don’t need, no matter how I obtained it (junk mail included).
  • Teach my child (and encourage other family members) to hold on to all litter until a garbage or recycling bin is found, even if it is inconvenient.
  • Watch consciousness-raising videos like The Story of Stuff with my family.
  • Organize or participate in neighbourhood or river clean-up days.
  • Do you think it would work to take photos of offenders (caught in the act) and publicly shame them? 🙂
Photo: centralmaine.com

Photo: centralmaine.com

I have to admit that I was getting more and more like David Sedaris, who goes around picking up litter all day (while wearing his Fitbit, no less!) I knew I could never keep up with the amount of litter in my neighbourhood, due to the school, the convenience store, the skate park, and so on. I have decided on a couple of strategies that soothe my conscience but don’t run me ragged. The schools have a two-week break in December and a nine-week break in July-August. When school is out, I pick up all the litter on the perimeter of the school property on my street. The rest of the year, there are two garbage receptacles on my way to and from work. As I approach each one, I pick up bits of plastic and foil that birds are most likely to be attracted to and eat – bottle caps, candy wrappers, and so on, and drop them in the bins. I don’t pick up all the litter and carry it a kilometre to the next bin. Just that! It’s something rather than nothing.

Does litter affect you or bother you where you live? If anyone (or their city/region) has had any success dealing with litter, I’d like to hear about it.

61 comments

  1. EcoCatLady

    Well, that’s disappointing. I don’t really notice a lot of litter around here except occasionally when the garbage truck leaves some behind – actually it’s usually the recycling truck. I think when it’s really windy sometimes loose papers get blown out of the truck when the big arm dumps the bins.

    But CatMan and I regularly ride past 3-4 different high schools, and I’ve never noticed any litter around them. I wonder what the difference is. Hard to believe it would be a cultural difference – maybe we just have more trash cans? All along the bike path there are both trash and recycling bins at every little bench area.

    I guess “enlightened waste policies” aren’t all or nothing. We only have a very small municipal composting program – it’s not available in all neighborhoods, and where it is it’s not only optional, it costs about $100/year to participate. But except on “overflow trash days” (once every 6 weeks or so) everything has to be in a bin or dumpster – they don’t allow people to just put out bags. Very interesting…

    • I remember that where you live, the garbage trucks have arms that pick up and dump out the bins, whereas we only have people to do that. I don’t think our garbage and recycling trucks leave much mess behind – it is individual people who do! I agree that a big difference between us and other places is the lack of litter and recycling bins in public places, which is related to the cost being charged back to the property owner. A good solution would be to expand waste receptacles and increase taxes to account for the cost of emptying them and transporting the waste. But I bet a lot of citizens would disagree and say that people should be responsible for their own waste. That is fine in theory, but not realistic until a huge multi-decade culture change takes place!

  2. Freckles

    Litterbugs are one of my pet peeves also.

    I could be wrong on this … but I seem to recall reading an article once that talked about the lack of public garbage cans in London. I think they may have had them at one time, but during “The Troubles” the IRA would use the public garbage cans in London as places to place / hide their bombs so the receptacles were removed for public safety.

  3. I visited Sydney, Australia several years ago (1999 – egads, time flies!), and I was stricken by how little litter there was to be found. Compared to the U.S. and Canadian cities I’ve visited, Sydney was downright pristine. Even in the un-glamorous parts of the city. There were public waste bins on several streets (that people actually USED), and they appeared to always be less than half-full. So either they had an appropriate trash pick-up cycle (daily?), or people just didn’t have that much waste.

    It was like that in other parts of the country too (Wollongong, Byron Bay) but it was striking to see that kind of attention to cleanliness in a large city. I don’t know if the same is true today, but the litter-free-ness of Sydney is one of the things that stands out to me about my trip.

    Interesting about the birds and bags issue. Where I live, we are not allowed to put bags of trash or recycling on the curb. It has to be binned or (a) it doesn’t get collected, and (b) we get fined. And that is exactly why – wildlife LOVES trash.

    • As a Sydneysider, I think there is too much litter! Lol! We had a big government advertising campaign years ago called “Do the right thing” (= put it in the bin). Then we had an ad campaign about how litter killed wild life. I think you need education and fines for those who breach this. All requiring govt input to minimise litter. That might be too left-wing for American but Australians are used to government intervention in our lives.

    • Your litter-free travel experience sounds ideal!
      Our garbage pickup system hasn’t changed in years (it’s always been “bags to the curb”) and all food waste is supposed to be composted in a city-provided bin. So the garbage bags should have no food to attract wildlife. However, unfortunately they are attracted to cat litter, dog poo bags, diapers and the like. The population and aggressiveness of birds (crows and gulls) has dramatically increased. I don’t know why.

  4. Interesting contrast with the take out food not being as popular in England.

  5. Jamie

    Travelling from Australia to London I was surprised at how few garbage bins there were at train stations. I think they were removed from train platforms after a bombing/bomb threat a few years ago?? We had to get used to keeping an eye out for clear bags hung up at the stations for garbage to go in, rather than a standard garbage bin.

    Where we live in Australia is known for being windy. It causes problems on garbage day. I try to place the largest piece of paper recycling on the top of my crate (usually a cereal box), then put a brick on top of that to hold it all in. But not all of my neighbours do, it seems. We, also, have a vacant house next door. I cleaned my own front yard and theirs from blown recycling last week. Someone further up the street must have had an overflowing plastic recycling bin, also, as there was paper/cardboard and a plastic clothes sanitiser container on the lawns here despite our plastic recycling bins having lids. (At least they had put it out for recycling, including washing the container and making an attempt to remove the label??)

    My biggest rubbish gripe is that the garbage collectors aren’t terribly careful about making sure all of the rubbish actually goes in the truck. Usually in Australia the trucks have an arm operated by the driver that reaches out to pick up the bins and tip them in the truck. Here we have a driver plus two people running alongside the truck, lifting the bins and tipping them into the back of the truck. I don’t envy them their job (they must be so fit!), but I am always having to go out onto the road on garbage day to pick up the smaller pieces of recycling that spill out as they race behind the trucks, emptying the bins.

    • Hi Jamie, we have the same system as you (a driver and a picker-upper: I was amused to find out the runner is called a “swamper”!) I am actually impressed that they rarely leave anything behind. But, that is because our recycling has to be bagged! All paper goes into a grocery bag, and all other recyclables, such as cans, jars and plastic containers, go into a blue plastic bag which is tied shut. So we have to keep replacing our supplies of plastic bags, rather than using bins: not exactly eco-friendly. I should say, the majority of my neighbours are really good at sorting and putting out their trash and recycling. And same for dog walkers picking up after their dogs. It’s only a few who spoil things. But the percentage of careless students is pretty shocking.

  6. We’ve been impressed by how much cleaner it is here on Kaua’i than back on the mainland, but recycling is a way of life here (no plastic bags at any stores, and all plastic bottles and aluminum cans can be returned for cash). Beach clean-ups are a regular feature as well; I’ve rarely, if ever, seen trash left out on a beach. The occasional piece of litter seems to be something that just got away from someone because of the wind.

    Japan is the most impressive place I’ve been when it comes to litter, although my son says that’s because cleanliness is baked into the culture and because they love to have rules to follow. So, if the government or their school or wherever says “Don’t litter! Separate your trash! etc.” the rules will be followed.

  7. lauralynne

    I live in a suburb but work in the downtown area of our city. We do have an annual fee assessed along with our property taxes which covers trash and recycling pick up. Our city and county are consolidated so all county residents receive the same services).

  8. lauralynne

    We have two super sized garbage bins–one for recycling which is picked up every other week and one for regular trash, picked up every week. These bins are needed for the automated trash system we have and they hold a LOT of filled trash bags. Even before we moved to automated trash vehicles, we were not permitted to place trash bags at the road side, to eliminate the bird/scavenger hunting and pecking you mention above. In my neighborhood there are no businesses or even parks so public trash cans are not perceived as a need. Our neighborhood streets stay pretty clean. Because we are consolidated, our more urban areas receive the same services, although there are more single family homes that have been converted to apartment homes, small businesses interspersed with family housing and a population that walks more so than any other area of the city. There is definitely more trash on the streets in these areas, although I am not entirely sure why. To some extent I think it’s cultural conditioning, although I’m not sure what exactly is at the root of it, so…I don’t know how to combat it. In general, though, I feel like my city is reasonably tidy. I WISH we had municipal composting, although given that I live in a pretty conservative, southern (US) city — that seems unlikely to happen anytime soon!
    Anyway, I’ve written a book without saying anything. Just that I find it fascinating the way different cultures handle things like waste and cleanliness and they are often so much a part of the community psyche that it can be hard to figure out how or why we do what we do in this regard.

    (I sent the first part of my comment accidentally, so I apologize if this is especially disjointed.)

    • Hi Lauralynne, I have posted before about how our city deals with trash, recycling and composting: https://anexactinglife.com/2015/08/18/waste-not/
      I am always interested to hear how other places organize things! My neighbourhood is full of parks, playgrounds, sports fields, a skate park, a convenience store, several schools, a few small home-based businesses, lots of bus stops, superboxes (community mailboxes), etc. It makes for a diverse and walkable area with many services, but no one is taking responsibility for the litter that each person creates and leaves behind 😦

  9. Dirty nappies!!! In the paper recycling!!! That is just selfish and dirty and knowingly wrong. I say absolutely grotty. I saw one in the wilderness here in Tassie on a walking track. Bloody lazy and the perpetrators need to be embarrassed and have their noses rubbed in it.

    Rant over. Well nearly.

    We have hard bins. So birds and animals can’t pull the rubbish apart. We currently have building work in our street. Several of my neighbours have contacted the council because the workers are dropping rubbish on the street. We all take responsibility for keeping our street clean. One of my kids has dropped rubbish on the front verge. He knows I go off.

    As I do at work. I cannot stand dropping rubbish. It is laziness because here in Oz we have bins everywhere. People will chip you in public if you do drop litter. And rightly so.

    • I wish we had a culture where people would be called out for littering. I think the problem is, no one seems to actively throw their trash on the ground. It seems to mostly fall out of vehicles, kids’ backpacks and pockets, and so on. People really seem to believe their littering is accidental and not their fault. There is no sense of responsibility for actually keeping track of any packaging that you have handled.

      We did have a campaign about how waterways, including storm drains, run to the sea. This was very successful, and now no one would dream of dumping motor oil or paint down a drain like they used to (eek!) But no one seems to connect that with littering.

      • We have road signs saying keep your load covered or face a fine. Accidental is often excuse for laziness. And other signs saying phone this number to dob in a litterer.

        As the drain campaign shows much of it is down to education.

      • A combination of education, reporting and shaming should do the trick 🙂

  10. EcoCatLady

    As I read these comments I’m struck by the differences in the laws and practices regarding garbage. I hadn’t considered the idea that garbage cans could be dangerous because terrorists could use them for bombs.

    In terms of wildlife, this isn’t true in Denver itself, but in many of our mountain communities residents and businesses are required to use bear-proof garbage cans and dumpsters, because in the mountains, attracting wildlife with your garbage can be much more than annoying, it’s downright dangerous! 🙂

  11. Fiona

    Over the years there have been big TV campaigns in Australia about littering. It has shaped the culture: people would be called out by strangers if they dropped litter/dumped it and the reaction would generally be apology and feeling shamed. I can’t imagine someone dropping litter from a car then just saying, ‘Oh – sorry!’ We also have bins everywhere, usually in pairs for either recycling vrs landfill. I wonder if you could lobby your local council to provide more bins in public parks, playgrounds etc? Or better still…an education campaign through the library system! We have ‘Drains to the Bay’ running in lots of schools (explaining to kids that litter gets washed into storm water drains and then into our water systems.) Often school kids stencil, ‘Drains to the Bay’ over street drains to remind people where their litter ends up. And kids do many school programs about the effect of litter on wildlife. Could be a great library display!

    • I have seen those drain stencils here too, and it seems really effective for educating people about pouring toxins down drains! I wonder what would happen if I started requesting more garbage cans in parks and playgrounds. I will have to try it and see! (and send them photos of how their city parks and sites look covered in litter).

  12. Fiona

    Oh…and most kids in Australia BYO lunch to school, so many, many schools have a ‘nude food’ rule. That is: no wrappers allowed on lunch/snacks OR if you bring a wrap, you must put it in your schoolbag to take home. I think it ingrains early that your waste is your problem and you must deal with it. I wonder if any local schools could partner with the library to have a ‘no lunch wrap’ policy?

    • As far as I know, most kids bring their own lunch up to Grade 6/age 11, but they are allowed to take any packaged food they like. They always have garbage cans in and around the schools, and younger kids are great about using them. This continues for junior high (ages 12-15) because mostly the students have to remain on site during breaks and meal time. But it all falls apart in high school, when most students either buy lunch in the cafeteria, go out for fast food, or choose not to eat real meals, but bring a bunch of packaged snacks instead (such as pudding cups, granola bars, chips, candy, and bottles of juice or pop). I don’t think the public schools can really dictate what parents can provide for their kids or what students may or may not eat. The only widespread policy is peanut-free and/or nut-free because of allergies. I wish that a no-wrap policy would work, but that implies everyone has to prepare and bring homemade food (unlikely) or simply unwrap all their packaged food at home. Parents would probably tell their kids to unwrap it in the school yard and throw the wrappers away! I know lots of parents who tried to send their kids to school with reusable lunch bags and containers, but gave up because the kids kept leaving them behind or losing them. I think there was social pressure on the kids not to carry their empty containers around with them and bring them back to their classrooms or lockers. I’m not sure what it’s like in your area, but here, students in elementary school are only given 15-20 minutes in their classroom or cafeteria for a meal before they are sent outside to the school yard. Kids are terribly rushed and they have to wolf down their food. In junior high and high school it is even worse because all the students have their meal break at the same time, and they are not allowed to remain in their class rooms or in the library. The cafeteria only holds about 1/4 of the students. So the rest have to eat in the hallways or outdoors, which leads to them gobbling down wrapped snacks from out of their pockets. The entire issue of food in schools needs a makeover. Where is Jamie Oliver when we need him? Well, at least poutine has been banned at most high schools!! I could go on all day.

  13. A brilliantly thoughtful article. Sometimes when I’m on a walk I take a carrier bag and fill it with litter as I walk along. Or I’ll litter pick a beach. It’s my little thank you to nature.

  14. The lack of bins in London is down to the possibility of them being used for bombs, but in other large UK cities the costs of emptying them are a consideration. I wouldn’t eat whilst walking about (maybe an ice cream), so always have somewhere to put my rubbish – leave at place of purchase, in a bag in car, etc.
    What I find awful about London is the pavements almost covered in chewing gum. Disgusting stuff and when did it become acceptable to spit it on the floor? Other countries appear to have this under control.

  15. cathy

    here in the UK we have big hard recycling bins taking glass, cans, paper, plastics (not textiles sadly, which they used to take) picked up every week from the front door. How easy is that? and yet my neighbour puts in glass bottles in the ordinary rubbish instead ( I have been known to dip in and sort it out out pre collection). I hate litter, and I pick it up if I see it. Someone drives up our road from time to time and throws their fast food rubbish out of the car on the road which I am shocked by – so unnecessary.

    Bins did disappear when the IRA were bombing London but they’ve crept back, thank goodness. I like the Australian no litter approach – I note in Europe they seem muh tidier

    • Hi Cathy, in my town, some public areas have proper garbage and recycling sorting bins, but it seems very random. It’s down to which public buildings and merchants are willing to pay to buy, install, maintain, and empty them regularly, because the cost is all borne by them. We have a great household service that picks up everything (except textiles and Styrofoam) but it’s public behaviour that irks me!

  16. Nienna

    I live in England in a row of terraced houses – I think these are called row houses in The States – and I have to say all the neighbours seem very good. My sister’s neighbours are good and they sometimes even put her bin out for her for rubbish collection day.

    I don’t like idea of eating on the go at all. It doesn’t sound healthy because people need time and peace to digest a meal properly. I don’t think my dodgy insides could do it.

    • I wish more people thought like you, Nienna! The eat-on-the-run culture is so strong here. People are trying to make healthier choices, but they claim to be in a rush all the time and won’t give up their drive-throughs. So they might order a chicken wrap and a bottle of juice from the fast food place instead of a burger and fries, but half of the wrappers still seem to land in the street!

      • Nienna

        People do drop a lot of rubbish here in some places, so maybe that’s why drive throughs have not been allowed – because the clear up would cost so much? I’ve never seen a drive through and can’t imagine one. Most of Britain is very crowded indeed ‘re buildings and people so perhaps there wouldn’t be the space here. I remember reading as a British 14 year old in the 70s about teenagers in the States driving cars to school and it was absolutely astonishing. It seemed as far fetched as them having their own helicopters to get around in. Of course, the whole school thing was and is totally different here; everything is far more modest usually, (or so it seems from the movies). Cultural differences are interesting.

      • I was surprised on my many visits to the UK that most parents seem to drive their kids to school. There are massive lines of cars/SUVs squeezing in to drop off and pick up kids every day – anyone else trying to get around town at those times would be stuck in gridlock!

      • Nienna

        Just googled drive through and apparently they have them in Britain according to this;

        https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drive-through

        I never eat in Macdonalds and fast food places for ethical reasons so that’s probably why they’ve escaped my notice.

      • I rarely order fast food any more but I confess to buying an order of New York Fries at the mall 2 or 3 times a year! (Atlantic Canada, where I live, is a potato growing region and many farmers enter into contracts to supply potatoes for McCain’s and McDonald’s fries!)

      • Nienna

        Well everyone deserves a treat now and then 😃 I eat chips/fries occasionally myself.

  17. This comment thread is fascinating.

    I never thought I’d be so intrigued by a discussion about trash. (Though it’s much larger than that, isn’t it? Which is why I find it fascinating. 🙂 )

    Sometimes I wonder what anthropologists are going to make of the contents of our landfills when they are unearthing our cultural refuse some 500 or 1,000 years from now.

  18. PK

    Aaah, I fear that changing culture and habit would be an almost impossible task. It’s really disappointing that we live in an age when people require incentives to do the right/reasonable thing. I actually suspect that it might be easier for companies to develop more sustainable solutions to the packaging problem but sadly that would still not get the offenders to be more mindful of how they dispose of the trash.

    I live in Rwanda where plastic bags were banned nearly a decade ago and every last Saturday of the month, businesses close and everyone is expected to take part in Communal cleaning in the areas where they live for 3 hours followed by a ‘town hall’ meeting sitting under a shade. This happens across the country and every neighbourhood decides what activities they do that month. I think the practice puts the power back in people’s hands and makes them more aware and responsible for the state of their environment, and in five years, I am yet to see litter strewn around here. Unfortunately, while disposing rubbish is not an issue, no one really separates their garbage for recycling and even if they did, it still seems to end up in the same place. I have to hope someone in an office somewhere is putting together a solution for this.

    • That is fascinating, PK. We have so much to learn. In North America, two campaigns have been really successful: against drunk driving, and against cigarette smoking. Drunk drivers and smokers are always shamed, and in the case of smokers, they feel persecuted! It took about 20 years for the cultural change to be widespread – basically, a new generation coming of age with the new values ingrained. The same should happen for litter. Meanwhile, there is the whole obesity epidemic and fat-shaming to deal with. That is a whole other story.

      • Australia has tried a public shaming campaign against litter (complete with details of fines, which increased, about leaving cigarette butts). We also tried shame campaign with speeding, and I think they’ve not really worked, but it’s hard to know (it was about mocking men who speed with a hand signal infering a small and flacid penis). It does seem like the more inclusive approach in Rwanda is strong, and perhaps more powerful long term – like Japan, it become part of the ingrained cultural way of ‘this is how we do things’

  19. I remember at school (in the UK) the whole school frequently being pulled out of lessons to pick up all the litter sprawled across our playing field. I hated it but I think it actually taught us a good lesson at quite a young age – that we all need to clear up after ourselves!

  20. You really always should talk to your city/municipality/distict/region/councillor/administation to find out exactly what the rules and routines are just where you live and what you can do better.. The rules/needs and organisation is always different everywhere, because we all live differently. Here in Amsterdam you stand and eats the fast food where it is being served, use the different trash cans and then move on. Walking with food or drink is apparently quite vulgar..

  21. Jo

    I live near a primary school, and often find myself picking up wrappers blowing past my house.. however, on the whole, school children are well trained to put litter into bins, and here in Australia we have an annual Clean Up Australia Day (March 6 this year) in which many schools and volunteer organisations participate. But it is only one day..

    I loved reading PK’s Rwandan experience – I think maybe that small communities working together to keep their own space beautiful is the most efficient, and motivational. After all, if all the neighbours are watching..

    I am really trying very hard to restrict the amount of rubbish I generate. I have eliminated most processed food from our kitchen, for health and planetary reasons. We are down to crackers, cheese and meat for plastic packaging now, and last year, when I attempted to Buy Nothing New, well, obviously that had an impact on the amount of packaging we generated as well. I still put our bin out every week, but it is generally less than a quarter full, most of that noxious weeds that I can’t compost (no green waste bins here). It has just occurred to me that I could just not put the bin out every week – I compost all our food waste, so it wouldn’t smell. Imagine the savings in fuel for the council if people only put their bins out every two weeks instead of every week?

    • Hi Jo, Hey look, your comment has come through 🙂 Our local garbage system has garbage pickup one week and municipal composting the next. As you say, if there is no food in the garbage, every 2 weeks is fine. We have also worked hard on eliminating packaged and processed foods and it’s now pasta, cereal, crackers and cheese. However, we do have to buy some frozen veg and fresh produce in plastic packaging because so little is grown here in the winter and it is all transported here from afar. When I was reading some of the David Sedaris articles (he is the king of litter clean-up), he believes that litter is a class issue. In the case of my neighbourhood, perhaps the high school students are showing contempt for their school and its environs by being careless about litter?

      • Jo

        I am so glad I can comment here again:) I just peeked in my cupboard – also spring roll wrappers, sushi nori and bean noodles in unrecylable packets..

        I am hearing you on the class issue thing. Wealthier suburbanites care very much about what their suburb looks like, and their children would be well-trained to pick up litter, HOWEVER that does not mean they create less trash, it is merely binned for appearance’s sake as much as anything.. plus, the well-off can trash the planet in so many other non-litter related ways, like long distance and frequent air travel, huge houses and multiple cars, whereas the poor neighbourhood looks terrible, but on the other hand, their carbon footprint is mainly limited to those blowing McDonald wrappers..

  22. Barbara

    I live in South Australia where free plastic bags were banned a few years
    ago (now it’s 10 cents) and it’s amazing how quickly people adapted. The
    other thing we have is a long standing container deposit law (since the
    1970’s). When we go to the neighbouring state of Victoria and see
    millions of bottles and cans on the sides of roads, unlike here, you
    realise how effective it’s been in changing people’s behavior.

  23. This would really get under my skin too – actually today I noticed a fair bit of rubbish in our street, and I wish they’d just put in another ‘council’ bin as they do at the mouth of the street, as this really is a street many people use to walk between places.

  24. I’ve never really noticed litter in Calgary but then again we were voted the world’s cleanest city so there is that. I’m actually surprised that you don’t get bins from the trash removal company to put your residential trash bags in. I thought that was the norm

  25. Humans are a disease, virus to the planet, we eat meat, kill land for animals, and slaughter billions of animals every year, animal agriculture pollutes the air more than cars. Greed drives poverty, drives less affordable housing, and drives homeless which = more littering, and pollution of lakes, oceans and cities.

    Teachers, Parents, teach your kids on what “Vegan” means (It is not an allergy which I am often told.) If you love meat good for you Not! Even cutting down meat will help the envionrment and you might actually live longer. You care of your dog and car yet you buy animal tested products? You care for a dog and cat and hogs are actually more intelligent then your dog.

    “A Dog is a Pig, is a Bear is a Boy.”

    Avoid Walmart (sure its 9.99) but will end up in the landfill forever in 2 months’ time…

    Reduce, Recycle, Reuse. Avoid using plastic bags, BUY Less Needs vs Wants.

    What if everyone thew out there trash out the window?

    Empty Ocean by 2048. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQCe4qEexjc

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