Monday, 2 August 2010

Keep Hackney Tidy

I was cheered to read in the Hackney Gazette of a near-neighbour of mine (hi, Peter Dixon of Woodmill Road, E5!) who confronted a worker at the Olympic Park throwing a plastic bottle into the River Lea. He’s a man after my own heart – and a Hackney cyclist too - but in fronting up to a litter-bug, a braver man than I.

Mr Dixon was recently cycling along the towpath when he saw a female worker, in her hi-viz jacket (!), toss her empty into the river. When he stopped his bike and asked her what she was doing, she said: “I’m throwing it away. It’s rubbish.” She was 100m away from a litter bin.

It’s the kind of thing that makes my blood boil – but which also reminds me of how impotent I feel as an admittedly scaredy-cat individual to do anything about it.

I can count on one hand the times I’ve shouted “Oi! Pick that up” - often from a safe distance. Each time, I’ve been greeted with an earful or ignored.

Is this where the Big Society comes in? Mr Dixon reported the Olympic employee to the contractors’ depot – but I very much doubt anything will happen. And ticking off a lazy, anti-social civil servant is not the same as confronting a group of kids who drop crisp packets in a park, or the driver who pulls up behind you at the lights and tosses an empty plastic bottle into your cycle path. A filthy look gathers no litter.

So what am I doing wrong? I wonder if hamming it up and over-doing the politeness – picking up the litter and handing it back with an “Oh, I’m *so* sorry, but you just dropped this…” – would have a different effect. But, I suspect, rather than being given the usual teeth-kiss, I’d have them smacked in instead.

Given that Boris Johnson wants us to put an end to the walk-on-by society by encouraging us to become more active citizens - or "vigilantes", as they used to be called - how do you successfully shame a litterbug without it requiring a trip to casualty?

Of course, there's always this approach. But any more ideas?

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