Throwing it away

 Alan Clawley on a lack of council service.

Nothing illustrates the contrast between private profligacy and the decline of public services more graphically than street litter. Even in a recession it seems, people can afford to throw away as much if not more that they did in times of plenty. Takeaway restaurants are doing well and adding to the pile of paper and expanded polythene packaging on the streets; schoolchildren still have enough pocket money to buy a pre-packaged junk snack instead of eating a free dinner in the school restaurant.

The Council, on the other hand, tells us that frontline services are being cut. In some of our residential neighbourhoods we don’t see a street sweeper for months on end.

The Council can of course prosecute anyone caught dropping litter in the street, but I’ve never heard of anyone being caught red-handed. A few years ago the Council invented the idea of Environmental Wardens to patrol the streets looking for litter-droppers, mattress-dumpers and other environmental criminals. These wardens have long since disappeared or morphed into the equally powerless Police Community Support Officers. Litter is dropped casually and old furniture is dumped openly with no fear of prosecution.

There may have been a time when people who dropped litter could expect a council worker to pick it up at the taxpayer’s expense, but not, it seems, any more. Litter stays for days and months where it’s dropped or where the wind blows it into a heap. And it takes a brave person these days for a non-litter-dropper to confront a blatant litter-dropper in a public place.

Street litter is one of those problems to which politicians attach a low priority (except in the city centre) because they say they are concentrating on the really serious issues like economic development, transport policy or social services. Yet they could actually eradicate street litter once and for all if they put their minds to it, unlike the ‘big’, soft problems which may never be finally resolved. It seems strange that councillors don’t leap on this opportunity to show the people what they can do instead of spending millions on new showcase buildings such as the Library of Birmingham.

Perhaps councillors hope that we will get so fed up with the state of our streets that we will start organising our own litter collections, but in the meantime we have a right to expect the Council to do it for us.


14 December 2013


One thought on “Throwing it away

  1. In the 30 years I lived in a certain trashy mega-overhyped area just to the north of Kings Heath (at several addresses) I was the only person to ever clear up rubbish in my street. If I hadn’t done it the street would have just become ever more of a tip. There’s nothing new about this situation. And far from the council clearing up the mess their refuse collectors caused half of it by causing black bags and broken bottles to spill out on the road and leaving them there. So every ‘collection’ morning I’d chase after the refuse truck clearing up their mess.

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