Last week, in my post Monday Meditation: My Walk Around the *Neigh*bourhood, I wrote about my walk up to the horses’ field and shared some happy memories of times past: spending time with them, taking treats and sharing precious moments. I wanted to keep the tone of that post positive, so I didn’t go into detail about the less pleasant aspect of the walk. This week, I shall elaborate on what made me so frustrated and angry.
This is what greeted me when I arrived at the field:
I was aghast at how much rubbish there was, just around the gate. I began to look up and down the grass verge along the busy road, and in the hedges.
So many plastic bottles, drinks cans, crisp packets and wrappers, whisky bottles, takeaway cartons. There was even a carrier bag full of takeaway cartons thrown into the hedge. My thought was: the clue is in the name, it’s called ‘takeaway’, ie you take it away! Some of it could have been blown there after a refuse collection: bits of cardboard, crips packets etc, but it was obvious much of it had either been thrown from passing cars or dropped by people congregating or walking past. (There is a waste bin a few yards away).
As I looked, I wished I had brought a bag with me, but then realised one bag wasn’t going to do it anyway and I couldn’t have picked up all the litter and carried it by myself.
I walked home, slowly, subdued, pondering on why people would have so little regard for their environment, and the amount of damage to wildlife.
This field and verge is the first thing you see when entering our small country town, and it doesn’t exactly make you want to stop and support local businesses or visit local tourist attractions. Our town has a long history and still has some Tudor buildings, a canal, a lake, lots of Blue Plaques detailing where famous people lived or visited, old pubs and so on.
It used to be on the route taken by the Royal Court on its way north, and provided fish for royal banquets. Charles Dickens stayed here, it’s rumoured he got his inspiration for Miss Haversham during that visit. Princess (later Queen) Victoria stayed at a local inn which was later renamed in her honour. We still have cobblestones, an annual carnival, Old Tyme Market, a nocturnal bike race.
On my way home, I began to notice all the litter under the hedgerows, and flattened cans and bottles in the gutter at the roadside. There was even a plastic wheel hub on the pavement.
This is a rural area, not an inner city. I couldn’t understand it. I realised as I walked, eyes down, how much litter we walk past every day, we have become innured to it. We live in an area surrounded by several schools, and a lot of the rubbish is from the school kids on their way home. Other things, takeaway cartons, beer cans, for instance, is what is discarded on the way home from a night out at the weekend. Some is discarded by parents parked outside schools waiting for their children, or dropped by the children getting into the cars: hairbands, hairslides, bits of paper, sweet wrappers, cigarette ends.
I told my husband when I got home, hoping but not daring to ask that he would say what he did: I’ll help you.
Next day, in cold but fine weather, we set off with large recycled charity bin-bags (the ones that regularly get pushed through our letterbox and collect in the cupboard of our utility room), disposable gloves and two grab sticks.
This was our haul:
We gathered all this from about a hundred and fifty yard stretch by the field and then another 2 bags on the way home, including the wheel hub that was still lying on the path. It was pretty hair-raising at times with traffic hurtling past as they came off the by-pass onto the residential area.
It took about 2 hours and at one point the first bag split, but some gardeners working on a new housing development nearby let us empty it into their skip. They told us, if we needed to do it again another day, just to go around the corner and use the builders’ skip. They appreciated what we were doing.
Just as we neared home and were pretty tired, a local authority highway maintenance truck driver nodded to me and gave me the thumbs up, which made me smile. I found myself humming Lonnie Donnegan’s ‘My Old Man’s a Dustman’ as we headed for home! (See video link below*)
It had been an exhausting – and cold! – couple of hours’ work, I hurt all over and wanted a hot shower, but I felt so much better about this day’s walk than the previous one, I was no longer angry.
I felt proud that I had actually been able to do something for the community. We must have walked and driven past all this litter so many times, I don’t why it had such an effect on me this time, but I’m glad I noticed and that I was able – with my husband’s help – to take some action, and not just send off an irate email to the Refuse Department of the Local Authority!
We became even more determined to ditch as much plastic as we could from our regular shopping. I regularly support campaigns and sign petitions calling for a ban on single-use plastic items: straws, bottles, takeaway cutlery etc. but I realise, that’s not enough.
Sitting at a keyboard is easy, actions are what count.
Let’s Ditch the Plastic
Earth Day: Microbeads – What Are They Good For…?
* A fun video: My Old Man’s A Dustman by Lonnie Donnegan
Copyright: Chris McGowan