It all started in late December where suddenly the pavements in the area of south London where I live became littered with discarded Christmas trees. Now I am fortunately able-bodied, fully sighted and haven’t pushed a buggy around for years. The point being that if I was afflicted in any of these areas I could have come a cropper, as at some points it was quite difficult to navigate this tree trash without risking falling over or having to step into the street.
It seems that otherwise law-abiding and conscientious members of the community lose the plot once their hitherto beautifully adorned festive tree has become surplus to requirements, and simply chuck it outside the front door. And these are not the sort of people who do this with the rest of their rubbish.
In early January every single local authority gives ample information and dates on its website as to when and how they will collect discarded Christmas trees, and it only takes a few minutes on the old search engine to find out, so why the free-for-all on the pavements I wonder…
I may of course just be behaving like a Grumpy Old Dame (GOD?!), because attitudes to rubbish vary hugely depending on where and how you live. Even in ‘civilised societies’ it is easy for rubbish disposal to fall apart. In 2017 in Birmingham the bin men – have you ever seen a female refuse collector on the trucks? – went on strike to protest against the council’s plan to restructure this particular workforce. It didn’t take long for piles of rotting waste to fill the streets of the UK’s second biggest city.
In other countries attitudes to waste vary hugely. I have never been to Singapore, but the line that you can be prosecuted for leaving chewing gum on the pavement carries huge resonance. I just wonder if it is true. On holiday in Sicily last year we found the streets and environment relatively litter free, but when we toured around the Etna area this changed completely. There was rubbish of every description dumped by the roadside. Back in the various towns it was a different story, and the streets were clean. No one we asked could explain this anomaly; it was assumed that the people in the towns paid their taxes and had their rubbish collected, while in the countryside it was a free-for-all.
My son lived and studied in Buenos Aires for 6 months. Residents there put all their rubbish out in one bag, and this is then sorted in the early hours by groups of less advantaged people who then take all recyclable items and anything of value away in a lorry to a depot where they are paid for having done so. This community recycling seemed to suit everyone, although my son confessed to feeling a bit odd the first time he found a stranger calmly sorting through his rubbish. Nevertheless, the general feeling that it was a symbiotic relationship where everyone benefited.
When we were all studying for our A levels, one of the boys found a discarded toilet in the street and brought it into our common room – a rather tatty space but at least we were left alone. It was just after Christmas so it was not long before someone else dragged in a tatty, denuded little fir tree and stood it up in the toilet bowl. Other helping hands brought in scraps of paper and rubbish with which we proceeded to decorate it. Surely this was the spirit of punk before it has been invented! When we returned after one weekend it had gone. Council recycling schemes didn’t exist in those days, so goodness knows how the cleaners disposed of it.