Friday, 2 March 2018

Why Doesn't Peterborough City Council Pick Up Litter? (and other frequently asked questions)

Litter pick in Kilham
A recent litter pick around Kilham in Orton Goldhay

While Peterborough hides under a blanket of snow, you may have temporarily forgotten about our war against litter. Unfortunately, in just a few days from now, the ice will have melted and the snow will have thawed and any litter that was hidden beneath it will look even worse than it did before Storm Emma came.

This afternoon, one brave resident trekked a mile through a virtual blizzard to put a note through my door with a list of questions about why we do the things we do in Peterborough Green Party.

As the snow shows no sign of letting up this afternoon, I have the perfect opportunity to stay indoors and address his/her excellent questions about litter, the council and Peterborough Green Party.

"Whilst it is very admirable of you and your team to tidy up the litter I would like to suggest/ask..."

1. Why don't the council undertake the task?

This is an excellent question. The council is indeed responsible for keeping our streets free from litter. However, it is painfully clear that Peterborough City Council, like many councils around the country, isn't keeping on top of it.

It is no secret that Peterborough City Council is in financial trouble. Budget cuts imposed by central Government are having a devastating effect on the council's ability to provide essential services to an adequate standard. But this is only part of the problem. The council isn't the one doing the littering. That, I'm afraid, is the rest of us, aided and abetted by the manufacturers that have introduced a completely unsustainable amount of single-use plastic into our lives. 

An exponential increase in the amount of single-use plastics in our shops (particularly drink bottles and sweet wrappers) combined with cuts to local government budgets multiplied by a laissez faire attitude among some people to taking their litter home with them has got us all into this situation. 

Peterborough Green Party regularly organises litter picks in response to requests from residents. We don't do this because we want to do the council's work for it. Like all Peterborough residents, we pay council tax for the council to provide this service. We don't do it to show the council up either, though residents often tell us that the council's contractors rarely do a good job and only bother to pick up the litter that is obvious, rather that the stuff that is caught up in the undergrowth where it does real harm to our local environment. 

We do it because it is a simple act of kindness that we can show towards our community. It doesn't make a huge difference long-term, we know that. But it can bring a bit of happiness to an area that is being neglected and we know that residents are grateful for a bit of TLC, even though what we can do has a relatively small impact in the greater scheme of things.

We also do it because we believe in leading by example. People very rarely drop litter when they see us working hard to pick it up. Positive action has a positive effect.

But I have to let you into a secret... when we litter pick we don't just pick up litter. No. We also report fly tipping and other issues that the council is able to fix. And we talk to people. Lots of people. I've never been on a litter pick where local residents haven't come up to us and engaged us in conversation about the local community. 

Litter pick in Matley
The new Lapwing  Retirement Apartments in Orton Brimbles are a wonderful addition to the community.
But nearby Matley is always strewn with litter.

2. Why aren't people who have been given a punishment of community service forced to clear up the area? Can't people from the prison be tasked with such work?

Community service is a great idea and I believe that to some extent this does happen. I would imagine it's slightly more difficult to deploy people from the prison due to the costs of administering this (overseeing the prisoners while they work, for example).

I wrote an article about this for the Peterborough Telegraph in 2017. I suggested that those responsible for fly-tipping might be made to clear it up as this would be better use of taxpayer money than imprisoning them. You can read the article here.

Litter pick in Orton Northgate
Recent high winds caused recycling bins to blow over in Orton Northgate.
As neither the council nor the developer seemed interested in helping, residents cleared this lot up ourselves.

3. Unemployed people, claiming benefits, may be pleased of such work

Unfortunately, such work is likely to be low paid and therefore not suitable for people claiming benefits due to the rules regarding what you can and can't do when you are claiming certain benefits. However, this is a fault of the way the welfare system is structured. I must add that many of the people who come on our litter picks are unemployed, on benefits or retired. In fact, very few of our volunteers are in full-time work. 

Sack of beer cans
A bag full of cans. We pull hundreds from bushes and streams every year.

A bush is not a bin 

We can all do something to reduce the amount of litter in our environment and take the pressure off Peterborough City Council: by taking our litter home with us.

I guarantee, prod any hedgerow in Orton with a litter picker and you will very quickly hit a beer can. There seems to be a myth circulation around our local community that a bush is some kind of magic litter bin. I bring news that will come as a shock to some: it isn't. A bush can do a lot of things, including providing shelter for us from noise and pollution and habitat for a wide range of wildlife. But a can in a bush will just sit there forever until some removes it.

Milder March weather will soon replace the snow and Peterborough's shame - our blanket of litter - will be exposed once more. My team will happily come out into your communities again, but for us all to see a real difference in the amount of litter in our environment we all have to change our ways, permanently. 

Litter pick in Orton Goldhay
Litter pulled from bushes near Beckingham, Orton Goldhay