Littered with Judgement

Littered With Judgement by @jcstaff_

Some months back, a sign did the rounds on social media.  It was an anti-littering campaign from a city in the north-east.  An unpleasantly-worded admonishment,  belittling those who drop litter, as though “they” are an underclass of some sort. I thought it was an abhorrent approach to asking people to care for the earth, and an approach which promoted unkindness and blame-and-shame.

This week, I was shocked and dismayed to see the same signage on the gates to our local wooded greenspace in my own neighbourhood.  The signs ooze sarcasm and judgement, using the word “tosser”, which is commonly used as derogatory slang to describe a man completing a solitary sex act.  As well, it assumes that everyone who is littering can read (and can read English).  And possibly is male…?  Either way, it is akin to the term “litter lout”, equally judgemental.

Both “tosser” and “litter lout” probably conjure up an image in our minds, and create an us and them mentality.  In reality, if we were to examine the litter lying around, we would soon see it is probably deposited by people from all socio-economic backgrounds and varying age groups.  So the terms lack an inclusivity, creating the notion that there is a certain “type” who litter.  I would imagine this is not actually the case.

The main reason I find the signs so horrible is because they cultivate an attitude of judgement and shame.  Ask anyone who was singled out in class as a five year old and made an example of, shamed in front of their class perhaps.  Did that experience have a positive impact on their life?  Did it make them a better person with greater ambitions and morals? Or did it embarrass them so deeply, leaving them feeling judged, ostracised and possible even angry and rebellious?

What happened to the push we saw at the start of the global pandemic to try and create a kinder world?  The communication in this small sign is so harsh and judgmental, dividing the community between those who litter and those who use bins.  This is no way to model the compassion we wish to see in our children. Actually, while I am on the topic of the actual litter itself, around the perimeter of the wooded park where this photo was taken, the pavements are now constantly strewn with latex gloves and disposable face-masks, presumably from people who have just left the local grocery shop.  Also, empty dog-poo bags which have been likely dropped by dog-walkers. Perhaps they haven’t read the signs?….

The final points I wish to make are these:

  1. Where is the evidence that this type of shaming campaign works? What are the statistics on the reduction of littering in areas where this type of sign appears? Has anyone asked local people what they think of this approach as a way to encourage people to use litter bins?
  2. Wouldn’t the funding for these signs be better spent on research? Finding out who is littering, and why? Is it inadvertent or accidental? Is it people who are unaware of the laws? Is it young children who may need more input in school?

I am saddened that my local parish council has chosen this route, and I have significant doubts that the campaign will positively impact the amount of litter, including discarded face-masks and gloves, which lands in our local greenspaces.  Alienating members of our society is no way to encourage cohesion and peace, and is highly unlikely to change undesirable behaviour.

To those who leave litter, please put it in the bins or in your pocket for now. That way, our taxes can be better spent than creating unkind signs, given we are sharing the planet with each other. And kindness matters.

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