surinenglish

EARTH MATTERS

Fighting litter

As you may have noticed in television ads and newspapers, there is a growing awareness of the damage plastic packaging - and its eventual product, plastic litter - has on the environment. There's a growing debate about its impact on land, sea, animals and even our own health, and with pictures of turtles, seals and dolphins caught in plastic netting haunting people, many supermarket chains have now also come on board and (finally!) made the corporate decision to replace plastic throw-away bags with long-life ones made from jute, paper and durable plastics.

News that plastic particles end up in the fish we eat and are also secreted by things like teabags has further accelerated the process, for now we are beginning to see that there is a direct threat to our health, and that this intake of plastics into our systems can be related to the current surge in cancer-related diseases. We've been debating for decades if red wine or beef is a carcinogenic, so imagine what ingesting bits of plastic will eventually do to your wellbeing.

There is still litter everywhere!

These are all positive signs of a gradual shift in attitudes and a growing awareness of a problem that has been on the rise (literally) for decades now, but in reality you still see depressingly little change on the ground - again, literally.

To those who endlessly debate whether there is or isn't climate change, and we are or aren't responsible, I would simply say: look around you. Especially, look down, and the wonderful natural scenery you're gazing at will be spoiled with loads of litter lying around on the verges of roads. It's got even worse now, with the plastic, paper, glass and tin litter - and even more disgusting junk too - having spread from the verges into hillside slopes, woodland and even grassland where animals are meant to graze.

Think of how much plastic sheep, pigs, chickens and cows ingest next time you tuck into a steak or drumstick and it may give you cause to stop and think about what is really an outrage. We spend so much time working for material things such as cars, and then park our expensive vehicles in places surrounded by junk. We get angry about the most ridiculous, futile topics, but not this - this we simply accept, even though at the present rate we'll be ankle-deep in it before too many years are past.

Who is doing this?

Every time I park near my office, I see junk of all sorts; every time I look at the verges alongside the road I see a river of litter glistening in the sun. Not only is it unsightly, a fire hazard and choking nature, but it attracts vermin and can cause health problems by increasing the number of rats, cockroaches, flies and mosquitos - exactly the wildlife we don't want, but the only ones we humans seem incapable of destroying.

So my question is: who the hell is doing all this littering? I know I don't and I don't think anyone in my office does, so who is responsible for the tons and tons of plastic, water bottles, Coca Cola and beer cans, bits of dirty paper and even nappies lying around? That's not even talking about the endless spraying about of disgusting cigarette butts. The thing is, I (almost) never actually see anyone dumping all this crap, so when, where and whom does it come from?

Doing something about it

Greta Thunberg is all good and well, but the answer doesn't always lie in attacking companies and governments. Very often we the public are the culprits, either with our buying behaviour or by actually doing things like littering. But you know what? Those of us who only complain, or worse even, say nothing at all and seem to accept it all, are just as culpable as the person who flicks a burning cigarette out of his/her car and dumps litter alongside the road or in nature.

We need to take action within our own personal surroundings - the only place we can claim to influence - informing people, engaging them to get involved, volunteering to clean up and perhaps communicating with local authorities and expressing our support for any steps they would take to begin to enforce this otherwise totally forgotten part of maintaining the public order. You can't drive 10km/h too fast or drink a glass too much on pains of punishment, but it seems you are allowed to go around spray-painting graffiti, vandalising property and dumping litter everywhere without any repercussions whatsoever.

To the authorities I would say, tell police officers to watch out for this kind of behaviour, encourage them to sanction or even fine people (there should also be a points system, as with traffic offences) and why not - install cameras to catch the culprits. I'm not in favour of a society in which people tell on each other (too Nazi Germany, Soviet Union) but really that is what those who cause our towns, suburbs and countryside to look like one big junk heap need. Perhaps that's the only way this invisible crime will stop spreading.