Litter scandal shames us all

July 31, 2002 ,

THE Echo's excellent clean up Cardiff campaign has highlighted the damage that litter can do to the image and health of our city.

It is right to name and shame the culprits, and put pressure on the council to clean up its act. But last week's scenes of rubbish piled high outside Waungron Road depot in Fairwater and elsewhere in Cardiff shamed us all.

Let's be clear, low-paid council workers have a strong case and the democratic right to pursue it. The council has the responsibility to manage and make sure quality public services are delivered.

It is sad that both sides were unable to find a way to open the depots on the weekend. It is understandable why people turning up expecting to find the depots open, were annoyed.
Nevertheless, all of us as Cardiff citizens should be ashamed of the mess that was dumped on the street, with no regard for fellow citizens living in houses nearby.

Sadly it is symptomatic of a wider problem to be seen every day in our city.

We have all witnessed the scenes: the parents strolling down Cowbridge Road East casually dropping litter in front of their own children, the driver tossing a rolled-up paper bag or cigarette packet out of the window, the dog owners allowing their pets to foul the pavements and parks with no intention of clearing up the mess.

How should we react when we see these scenes? Should we confront the culprit? "Excuse me I think you dropped something" or "You are going to clear up your dog's mess, aren't you?" When I served on the council I regularly did so. As a result, I now have a much more extensive vocabulary of swear words than before.

Should we pick up the litter, and follow the culprit home, Victor Meldrew style, to return it to them? Not recommended.

Should we simply ignore what is going on and say: "The police, the council or the government should do something about it"?

The blunt truth is, we get the environment we deserve. Yes, there should be strict penalties for littering. Yes, we should always be on the Council's case to improve street cleansing and refuse collection. Yes, we should make laws to reduce unnecessary packaging and encourage recycling.
But every one of us has an individual responsibility towards our environment and a responsibility to set an example to others, including our children.

These days when I see someone drop litter, I often simply pick it up myself and put it in the bin. This seems to infuriate the culprit more than anything else, but what can they do about it? And if all of us who feel that way did the same it might, just might, make a difference.

And so back to the sty. A politician, either Nancy Astor or Aneurin Bevan in the versions I have heard, was once asked by a farmer at an angry election meeting: "If you know so much about farming, how many toes does a pig have?"

"I suggest you take off your boot and start counting," was the reply.

How many toes do you have?