Let's engage with youths to help keep environment clean

Plastic litter washed up on a beach

Litter on the ground invariably ends up washed into the sea - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

On September 14, the BBC featured an article that stated nearly 60% of young people approached said they felt very worried about climate change. More than 45% of those questioned said feelings about the climate affected their daily lives. Three quarters of them said they thought the future was frightening with over half saying they think humanity is doomed.

Feelings described were sadness, fear and anxiety, despair, grief and shame. Many of those questioned perceive that they have no future.

I pondered this issue whilst clearing up the back of the youth centre last weekend. I felt sad that teenagers cared so little about the squalor they were sitting in. When I met one of the teens who meets others there regularly, she commented how much nicer it looked. Are we failing our kids, if their expectations are so low that they can’t be bothered to keep their own environment clean?

One reason people litter is ‘context’. It has been proven that if an area is free of rubbish and well-maintained then it is considerably less likely to attract rubbish than a place where waste has already piled up – ie litter breeds litter. If one teenager throws their bottle, crisp packet, McDonalds bag and carrier bag on the floor, it is easier for the next one to add to the mess with less worry. Teenagers by nature don’t like to stand up to each other, and it will take a lot for them to confront their friends even if they disagree with their behaviour. The lovely girl I met could easily persuade her friends but something must be stopping her – social pressures, name calling, being called an ‘eco-Nazi’ (yes that’s really happening) – I guess avoiding these things is important to a 15 year old.

Another reason for litter is the sheer volume of rubbish generated. The nearest shops are filled with plastic bottles, cheap crisps, very cheap single use bottles of water – but no water fountain for refills. The area is littered with cigarette filter tubes, broken glass, bottle lids, cigarette butts. There is one bin at the basketball court, but it isn’t positioned where the majority sit. I may be humouring them or patronising them, but if the bin is too far away, let’s get one as close as possible! Let’s try and talk to our younger generation about why we don’t want plastic waste on the ground – one good rain storm and it has gone, to the drains, to the river, to the sea. I want informative signs put up explaining that cigarette filters contain plastic and each one can pollute up to 50L of water. And…here’s a thought…let’s encourage our shops not to market these products and let’s make it normal for everyone to clear up after themselves.

It amazes me that so much fuss is made about ‘weeds’ and grass being left too long, but less seems to be made about the rubbish all over the ground. Well done to all of those who give up their time to help clear it up, and to Streetscene for doing a difficult job in very trying times.

I was honoured yesterday to attend a zoom meeting entitled ‘Political Voice – Coffee and doughnuts’ for young people to discuss the ‘Devon Doughnut’ (see devondoughnut.org) and it was great to hear from Devon’s two Youth Parliament representatives, (Joe Hartley is YMP for East and Mid Devon). To hear engaged young people is reassuring and of course indicative of how this generation is switched on, bright, enthusiastic and articulate. We mustn’t ignore their opinions in decisions we make for their futures. It is vital for mental health to feel that your voice is being heard, whatever age you are.

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