I know one or two people who, since they retired, have taken to doing good works. From what I can make out, and I don’t like to enquire too deeply in case I a) get roped in and b) maybe worse, feel guilty that I’m not doing something similar, have been to do with helping, in some way, refugees. In a totally different way, and this is the initial topic for this blog, as they got older they took to picking up other people’s trash / rubbish / litter. This is their retirement contribution to society, the ‘lucky’, so we are continually told, baby boomers way of giving back to society.

Why does this particular form of ‘public service’ come back to me now and motivate me to write this blog? Well, simply, because on our dog walk this morning, I was struck, not for the first time, by the abandon with which some people drop and leave their litter mainly in the form of plastic bottles. This morning we walked around a large area of various sports playing fields and what strikes me, which is code for, irritates the bloody hell out of me, was the number of empty water bottles left behind after a game. And, as a bonus, they leave behind their brightly coloured (also plastic) ties, the sort they use to hold up their socks and then seemingly discard after the game.

What particularly gets my goat is that all this litter is generated during the course of organised games. In other words there is, somewhere in all this detritus, an organiser / coach / captain etc. Is it beyond the wit / intelligence of these people, in some kind of authority, to require the rest of the team to pick up and take home their plastic surplus? I think not. The playing fields are ‘rented’ from Leeds City Council i.e. publicly-owned fields. Is it beyond their (the council’s) remit to require those responsible to tidy up afterwards? I think not.

An alternative walking route takes us through the grounds of the local university – Beckett University, an institution so concerned with its public image that it has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds rebranding itself from Leeds Metropolitan University to the above Beckett University. And yet students of the university leave their litter across their playing fields presumably on the assumption, or maybe not, that somebody else will pick up their water bottles etc. etc. Yes, I know I’m sounding like the classic grumpy old man but with reason in this case, or so it seems to me. It makes me even crosser to read signs on these same playing fields asking us dog-owners to pick up their dog’s ‘waste’. I feel like scrawling on their signs yes, I will if you pick up your litter until then I’m going to positively encourage my dogs to shit on your playing fields. This rather than doing what we actually do and pick it up.*

Of course not all of the discarded plastic comes from these sporting teams, just a lot of it, and the rest is from anonymous members of us, Joe public, who can’t be arsed to take their litter to the nearest bin, of which there might possibly be more but they do exist, but of course you have to look for them. Which brings me to what started out as the main point of this blog, although it’s got lost somewhere along the way – should you pick up (as an old acquaintance used to do and some retired people now do) other people’s litter. He and others would always take a big plastic bag with them when out on a walk and pick up the bottles, cans, paper, tissues, cigarette packets and so on that some previous moron had just dropped presumably with a f— you to the rest of the world. Psychologists would probably call these people disenfranchised, people with no investment or connection to wider society. They don’t care about us and we don’t care about them. Is this why travelling people leave their crap everywhere when they leave a place they have stopped at illegally?

I suppose the answer to my original question about picking up other people’s litter is a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. It’s the rationale behind either answer that interests me. What are the values we hold that leads us to one answer way or the other? For example – why should I, I didn’t drop it; we pay people to do that; they’ll only drop more, or alternatively, this is my planet and I need to take care of it even if others don’t; I need to set an example; the world will always contain some irresponsible people, doesn’t mean that I have to be. I’m sure there are other ways of thinking about this subject I just don’t know what they are. Maybe you do. I just know I find the whole topic (along with graffiti) massively irritating. I suppose it’s just a sign I’m getting old. Is that what it is?

*I must just take this opportunity of mentioning an email from our local councilor about the desirability of bringing in legislation to require dog-owners to carry only while out walking with their dogs l presume, rather than when they go to the pub or a restaurant, black plastic bags. To be without such an item would lead to a fine. Although how this would be enforced is not clear. And while I’m digressing who are the idiot dog-owners who do carry black plastic bags, pick up their dog waste and then hang the bag from the nearest tree? Are they trying to make some kind of point or are they indeed just idiots? And while we’re on the topic of weird dog-waste plastic bags, who, in the name of all that is holy, ‘invented’ see-through dog waste plastic bags? What a great idea, it’s clear so you can actually see your dog’s shit after you’ve picked it up. Maybe they think there’s the danger that if you have to carry the bag with you for any distance you might forget what’s in it. Hang on I’ll just check, oh yes, it’s shit. You know it’s possible that retirement is making me just a little grouchy. Maybe.

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