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Life on the verge

David McCann   Mon 16 Apr 2018

Noel McKee from the Whitehead Wombles writes for the Last Straw about "Life on the verge"

There seems to me to be a spectacular amount of effort put in to littering our country. How else can our roads, hedgerows, beaches and grass verges become so utterly filthy? Someone’s got to do it and yet no one seems to want to own up about their particular part in the degradation of our countryside. We no longer have verges by the roadside, just grass covered mounds of rubbish.

I started litter picking fourteen years ago around the streets and beaches of my home town of Whitehead in Co Antrim. It’s a beautiful place to live so I took upon myself to go out and litter pick. It grew from going around the town; to tackling the roads that lead into Whitehead, until eventually I was able to stretch as far as Kilroot, some four miles outside the town. I regularly lift around thirty bags of litter each month on that one stretch of road alone.

Our small group makes a difference but we know we are fighting a losing battle. For every piece of litter we lift, a thousand pieces are dropped. It has become so easy, and some would say acceptable, to throw litter from our cars. The vast majority of what I lift has come from this source. We don’t have to use any energy or thought when it comes to trashing the place where we live. With fast food containers playing a large part in litter blight it is important to get the message across that it’s a takeaway, not a throw away. Are we going to wake up to what we are doing?

It’s not one particular group that’s responsible, it’s everyone, from the rich executive throwing her coffee cup out of her very expensive car, to the child, carelessly dropping the sweet wrapper on the ground. I feel saddened when I pick up the remains of a Happy Meal or similar, with the toy still fully wrapped up in its plastic covering meaning either the child has thrown it out the window of the car or they have seen the so called grown up do it, leading them to believe that it’s the done thing.

Enforcement of fines has proved fruitless and is most definitely not working. Adverts and posters are pointless, ineffective and timid. It’s time for a proper hard hitting campaign of shaming our society into changing their mind set. The Blue Planet series shown on the BBC recently has at last got us talking about the inexcusable amount of waste created by us.

What a legacy to leave our children and grandchildren. A planet, millions of years in the making and we manage to pretty much destroy it in a hundred and fifty. Great work indeed, “Sorry kids made a bit of a hash of that.”

Where then do we begin to make the change so that we can learn to inhabit a cleaner, more environmentally friendly place? In my opinion it’s about getting into the schools and youth groups to educate our young people. I recently carried out a series of talks in our local primary school. I took two bags of litter, freshly picked from the roadside that morning to show them there was nothing clean or pleasant about litter.

They were able to see first -hand and up close the filthy reality of litter. A hard hitting, direct message that was well received and has resulted in three more families getting involved in keeping the town clean.

It’s also about adopting the Norwegian model of a deposit scheme for single use plastic bottles. All plastic bottles have a one Krona charged levied on them which can be reclaimed when they are deposited in a state of the art container. I’d be a rich man if this scheme were to come in here.

I would urge everyone from government bodies, charities and councils to break away from prehistoric thinking. Admit that what you are doing is not working and start listening to the people who are doing the work on the ground. Be more hard hitting, start working more effectively and efficiently and learn to collaborate with the people who know what they’re doing.