Sally Hall: We should all wage war against litterbugs

Large fines for dropping rubbish are needed.
Large fines for dropping rubbish are needed.
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He’s a Grammy-nominated writer and broadcaster whose books have been translated into 25 languages.

But when he’s not working on one of his best-selling tomes (of which he’s sold four million copies) humourist David Sedaris can be spotted chasing after errant carrier bags and fast-food wrappers.

Sedaris has become such an enemy of litterbugs that he presented evidence on the issue to a special committee of MPs this month.

This is a man who spends up to five hours a day clearing hedges and grassy knolls of unsightly waste and his local council has even created a rubbish truck in his name – the Pig Pen Sedaris, no less.

Now living in Horsham, East Sussex, the native-born American has declared Britain has ‘the worst litter problem in the world’.

His presentation was not delivered without controversy. Sedaris observed that, with both a Waitrose and a Tesco Metro near his home, he’d encountered dozens of the Tesco carrier bags and only one from the more upmarket supermarket chain.

‘I’m not trying to sound like a snob’, he commented. ‘But if you walk down a mile of road and take everything there’s no denying the things you find. I certainly don’t see any opera tickets in the street.’

As an outsider Sedaris can get away with opinions which, in others, might be considered blatant snobbery. But maybe he has a point?

If people feel alienated or disconnected from their environment, they may be less likely to see themselves in connection to it.

I’m not sure I can agree wholeheartedly with Sedaris on his ‘only poor people drop litter’ theory, though.

People with a sense of entitlement and longstanding experience of expecting others to clean up after them can also be the worst culprits for soiling their home turf.

Either way, his suggestion of applying much larger fines carries some credence – if only this was likely to be effectively policed and applied.

It’s high time there was a charge applied for all carrier bags in England. Since a 5p fee was introduced in Wales in 2011, use of plastic bags has reduced by up to 96 per cent in some areas.

Then there’s the German system, which I’ve seen working brilliantly well.

All bottles and cans are collected up, because consumers get a deposit back when they return them to the shop.

There’s even one pioneering plan to introduce a sort of recyclers’ one-armed bandit, where fastidious litter-returners can stand to win a lucky-dip jackpot of hundreds of euros when they deposit their stash of plastic or glass.

Putting a gaming element into the whole process is an inspired idea.

If I thought I was in with the chance of winning a fortune, I’d be scouring the streets for rubbish all day long.