A few weeks ago Leeds City Council decided to deliver a knockout blow to the disease that is ‘littering’ by recruiting the services of 3gs, a specialist firm, to work alongside its existing enforcement team. A team of four individuals will be charged with delivering no-questions-asked fixed penalty fines to anyone caught littering in the city centre. The project will run on a trial basis for six months.
A laudable initiative maybe, but certainly no game-changer.
I thought it timely to consider more creative initiatives.
I emailed a selection of Councillors a range of anti-litter initiatives with a view to encouraging some lateral thinking beyond the blind hope that enforcement will be the great panacea.
Here they are:
- A 5% discount on a Council Tax bill if you can prove that you regularly commit time to improving your local neighbourhood. Financially, this may seem difficult to conceive of in a time of austerity, but the benefits for community cohesion and building a sense of local ‘ownership’ and civic pride, sadly missing in many areas, are huge. A ‘community action’ co-ordinator would need to be appointed, who could not only co-ordinate the action, but verify that a person had contributed so many hours of voluntary work per month as part of an agreed ‘neighbourhood improvement’ project. The question would be whether a 5% discount would be sufficient to generate enough interest from people wanting to improve their neighbourhoods. Set the discount too low, though, and nothing will happen.
- As part of the completion to a young person’s education, an obligatory spell of 4/6/8 weeks of voluntary action. I believe that this would be controversial initially and would have to be supported and delivered from a high level. But I also believe that this could kick-start a real engagement of young people with their own communities – if officially sanctioned, carefully planned and supportively carried out. It would present a generational shift: school pupils working for the good of their own communities and discovering the value of ‘doing good for nothing’, something we appear to have lost a long time ago. Alternatively, some incentivising or private funding might feature: as part of the deal, young people to receive privately-funded vouchers to gain free cinema tickets, discounts on meals or coach/train travel, for example. The whole ‘package’ would amount to a gesture of appreciation on completion of a person’s ‘voluntary service’. Private sector involvement would be vital here – time for the likes of Subway, McDonalds, Coca Cola, Walkers etc. to step up and play a bigger role!
- Greater support from the Council for community clean-up initiatives. A community ‘link’ person, appointed by the Council, to specifically liaise with local communities and be a catalyst to facilitate local action. Someone who can offer guidance and practical support, galvanising people into action.
- Council-sponsored anti-litter ambassadors to be the ‘eyes and ears’ of their local neighbourhoods. I can only relate how effective it has been for Guiseley, to have worked so closely with the local Council depot. Over 2,000 bags have been phoned through directly and promptly collected, full litter bins have been speedily emptied on request, hot spots reported and monitored, and local knowledge listened to.
These are just a few ideas. The alternative appears to be to simply keep fire-fighting and applying the sticking plaster of enforcement. Then 20 years hence, we will look around and all agree that nothing has really changed and that littering behaviour is still endemic.
Our elected people in power need to start embracing creative solutions which will genuinely impact on littering behaviour. The role we can play as volunteer activists can be to prompt and nudge our elected representatives into thinking beyond the jaded notion of enforcement as the universal remedy.
We need to roll out our ideas to the people with the power to deliver them. They may take years to come to fruition, but could well be worth the wait.
The Litter-Free Guiseley Campaign,