There are some pretty obvious reasons why litter is problematic; it’s unpleasant to look at, for one thing. It’s also bad for wildlife, which can mistake it for food and become ill after ingesting it. And the fact that it tends not to biodegrade means that it hangs around for a very long time.
These are all serious issues, ones which bother me every time I encounter discarded bottles, cans and packets. It’s easy to place the blame on those who drop litter, and this is at least partially justified. Many people do lack respect for the environment and fail to consider other people. But I’ve come to believe that littering is just one symptom of a bigger problem.
The thing is, those of us who dispose of our waste responsibly are contributing to many of the same issues as those who drop litter. Although our waste is carted off to landfill sites, it’s still mostly unbiodegradable and will linger for years, decades or even centuries. It will still be an eyesore and a threat to wildlife. It will also be bad for the environment, releasing methane as it breaks down.
Litter only differs from rubbish in a landfill site in terms of its visibility. We object to litter because it’s an unwelcome reminder of the problem we’ve created. We don’t want it in our neighbourhoods, but most of us don’t have a problem with it being dumped somewhere else – out of sight, out of mind. (Rubbish is sometimes incinerated, but this is no better for the environment.)
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we might as well just drop litter! I do think it’s really important that we live in clean, tidy environments for the sake of our health and wellbeing. But I strongly believe we need to reduce the amount of waste we produce and stop making things which don’t biodegrade. A zero-waste future can be the only sustainable one.
It’s not so much a waste problem we have – rather, it’s an attitude problem. The fact that we continue to manufacture things which physically can’t biodegrade really angers me. It’s so incredibly short-sighted and irresponsible to put profits before the planet in this way. If everything biodegraded, littering wouldn’t be anywhere near as much of an issue.
It could even be argued that the problem is a spiritual one. Most of us are pretty out of touch with nature – we don’t value or respect it as much as we should. Our culture simply doesn’t encourage us to; rather, it’s implied that happiness comes from having money and buying things. This consumerism generates more waste and further harms the environment.
Imagine what a different place the world would be if schools taught kids to love and value nature. Littering would likely become far less common, and many of the other problems we’re facing would be addressed too. Current strategies to tackle littering often involve fining people, which I don’t believe is very effective. Education is a far more powerful tool.
What do you think?