When you see litter left on the street, on the beach or trapped by the wind under a bush, what do you do? Do you walk by muttering to yourself how dirty certain people are? Do you complain about how the municipality isn’t doing its job? Do you view it as job creation and leave it for someone else? Or do you pick it up?
It is safe to say that there are less people who purposefully litter that those who don’t, but then why do we have a litter problem? Surely if we just picked up the litter when we saw it, there wouldn’t be an issue. The sad reality is that most people couldn’t be bothered to bend down, so the situation worsens.
There is a term that explores this thinking or lack thereof and it’s appropriately called “the tragedy of the commons”. This term explores how group shared resources, in this case a healthy environment, can be depleted in the long term by individuals acting according to their short term self-interest. Whether your self-interest is not being bothered to put your waste in the bin or not picking up litter when you see it, your actions affect everyone including yourself.
Going to the beach or river and leaving your day’s trash behind exactly where you sat has knock-on effects. Besides the environmental issues, or that your grandchildren will inherit the responsibility of cleaning your mess there are real financial implications. The rubbish generated and left does not simply disappear at night it is cleared by municipality contractors. This is essentially paid for by you through your rates and taxes. In our Country where municipal and personal budgets are already stretched why do we remain so short-sighted? We take pride in keeping the inside of our homes clean, yet somehow our environment and common spaces don’t matter.
In life and in conservation we are too reactive instead of proactive. We react to the actions of others instead of being proactive in our own. We wait until species are threatened or rivers polluted before putting in measures to save them. Our thinking needs to change in order to get off the back foot.
We need to pick up what was put down and hold those who litter to account. We are both the problem and solution when it comes to littering. A clean, safe and healthy environment is our legacy to hand down to the next generations. We should not be handing them our problems, our waste and our complacency.
The way we act, the opinions we hold and how we express them all have a direct impact on those around us as well as on the future itself. Our actions and attitude not only determine our immediate future but set the course for next generations to follow or to be effected by. What we do or don’t do now will no doubt be echoed or chastised in the halls of eternity.
Photo caption. An entire picnic including the umbrella that was left behind and picked up on Suiderkruis beach, along with some buckets probably washed in from the sea.