Litter louts should be forced to spend a day cleaning up our streets – Stephen Jardine

If only they’d asked, I would have been more than happy to fill in for Her Majesty and deliver this week’s Queen’s Speech.

I wouldn’t have charged for my time and would even have taken the Megabus to London to cut down on expenses. We are living through a cost-of-living crisis, after all.

The one price for my involvement would have been a small addition to the list of legislation to be read out loud.

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Originally I’d hoped to feature the use of the rack and other instruments of torture but I’m told we live in enlightened times so instead I’ve gone for the lenient option and it is this, anyone caught dropping litter in public will have to spend a day with a brush and a bin bag cleaning the streets while wearing a bright green jumpsuit with ‘Dirtmonger’ emblazoned across the back.

What’s not to like about this? We get cleaner streets and the miscreants get to realise that whatever they drop, someone else has to pick up.

For most of us that isn’t a big mental discovery but for the litter louts it will clearly represent a significant eureka moment. How else can you explain the mental process that lies behind ruining the environment where you live?

Going somewhere else and leaving a mess behind is bad enough but doing it where you call home calls for a special level of imbecility.

Walking through the centre of Edinburgh last month, the girl in front of me deposited her huge milkshake Styrofoam cup in the middle if the pavement. She didn’t drop it, that would have been an accident. Instead she deliberately tossed it aside because she couldn’t be bothered putting it in a bin.

If there's rubbish everywhere, what's a little bit more? Streets need to be kept scrupulously clean (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

I should have said something at the time but I didn’t. Instead I picked it up and put it in the bin which was literally right there. So what possessed a teenager, part of the army of young people so focussed on the environment and global warming to think such behaviour is possibly acceptable?

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Part of it is the broken windows theory. Pioneered in New York by social scientists Wilson and Kelling, it claims that visible decay creates an atmosphere of acceptance that leads to worsening behaviour. Since Edinburgh seems to be host to a year-round Festival of Litter, according to the theory, what’s a few more abandoned cans, bottles and crisp packets?

In contrast, keep somewhere clean and pristine and it makes it less likely people will feel able to ruin that.

The challenge, of course, is enforcement. That would require an army of litter wardens with proper powers. So let’s make that happen.

I’m just back from Spain where a four-euro per night sustainable tourism tax generates revenue to improve the environment.

It doesn’t put anyone off visiting but it does create some of the cleanest streets I’ve seen anywhere in a long time. We need to stop procrastinating and making excuses, and accept the time for such a tax here is now.

We could even put “funded by the eco-tourism tax” on the back of the Dirtmonger jumpsuits. One thing is for sure, a small tax to improve the environment won’t put off a single tourist because it doesn’t elsewhere but filthy streets and pavements here certainly will.


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