Stop the Litter


It was a dark and rainy night and I was cycling innocently home at about the speed of an elderly French onion seller, when – pok – something hit me on the side of the helmet. I heard a shout of laughter to my right, and a cry of “You ——!”, and a car sped off up Shaftesbury Avenue. As anyone would in my position, I saw red. I put my foot down, and pedalled so hard that I was able to keep the weaving rump of the car in my sights, and I noted that it was some kind of Astra.

Soon the bike had beaten the car. As they waited at the next set of lights, I pounded on the window. “Open up!” I cried. There were three kids inside, and I could see the culprit goggling up at me with appalled recognition. They lurched off again in the hope of escape, but of course I had them at the next lights.

“Open up now,” I yelled, “because you aren’t going to get away with it, M*58 H*3! I am the mayor!”

By this time they were starting to look a bit unnerved, and the window came down.

“I know you is the mayor,” said the driver, “and it was a accident.”

“Pull over!” I commanded. Eventually they pulled over in a street running up towards the British Museum.

“Do you want me to get out?” said the culprit, who obviously had some experience of being flagged down by the law.

“Er, yes,” I said, noticing that it was pretty quiet around there. “Right!” I said, when we were all assembled. “Why did you throw something at my head?”

“Please, Mr Boris sir, this wasn’t meant to happen.”

“We know you is the mayor, man.”

“We gotta lot of respect for the things you are doing.”

“Hmm,” I said, momentarily wondering where I was going with all this.

“Whose car is this?” I demanded.

“It’s my uncle’s. We are going back to Clapton after a day trip.”

“Right,” I said. “And what is your name?”

“My name is Derron.”

“And what is yours?”

“My name is Erron.”

I didn’t bother to ask the third chap, having by now more or less run out of ideas, except for a general desire to stop them doing it again.

“Look, just don’t throw things – er – at people’s heads, OK.”

“It was a accident, I swear. It was only a piece of litter.”

At that point, I am afraid the red mist came down again. Only a piece of litter! Here we are in the depths of a recession, and councils in London are forced to spend about £100 million a year on cleaning up the casual detritus of people like him.

Only a piece of litter, he says, when we all know that the number one environmental concern of the British public – far ahead of global warming – is the tidiness of their neighbourhoods and the plague of litter.

It was only last week that the great Bill Bryson was again drawing attention to this desecration of our landscape, the 30 million tons we chuck out into public spaces without even the excuse that we are aiming at passing politicians on their bicycles. I don’t know what the Astra passenger threw at my head, but whatever it was, it wasn’t just a piece of litter. It was a national disgrace.

We in London government are doing what we can. Bexley has a formidable recycling rate; Southwark has just announced a savage crackdown on anyone who spits out their chewing gum on the pavement, with on-the-spot fines of up to £80; Lewisham is asking its citizens to take photos of flytipping and post them on the web. Transport for London wants to ensure that no passenger leaving a Tube train has any difficulty finding a rubbish bin either at the station or in the immediate vicinity, and our work has been somewhat assisted by the recent extinction of some of the free newspapers.

We are encouraging companies such as Addison Lee, which has supplied many excellent wall-mounted bins for butts and gum, and we are trying to devise a bin that will be elegant enough to be fixed to a listed building. We are still working on Wrigley and other chewing-gum makers to persuade them to put the harmless solvent in their gum that will save the councils a fortune in water-blasting the beastly stuff off the streets. We are planning action zones and clean-up-London days in the run-up to the Olympics.

But in the end there is a limit to what the public sector can do to address the sluttishness of the public. We can mount blitzes, and issue exemplary punishments, but we can’t tell every police constable or police community support officer to spend all their time issuing fixed penalty notices for litterbugs. We all need to feel a sense of shame about dropping litter. We will only feel ashamed if others have the guts to tick us off.

It will not always be easy, as Isabel Dedring, the environment director at City Hall, found when she tried to reprove a man who was depositing a Coke can on a wall in Trafalgar Square. “What has it got to do with you?” he bristled. The answer is that it has everything to do with us. Litter is not only unpleasant to look at. It helps to breed a sense of insecurity and even crime.

That is why I blew my top, and addressed the Astra trio as fiercely as I could: “Well, don’t throw pieces of litter at people’s heads!” I said. At which they did their best to calm me down.

“We won’t do it again,” they promised. “Can we have a photo, Mr Boris?”

I have no idea whether I changed their attitude to litter, but at least I tried. I hope you will, too.

See The Daily Telegraph here for this column and more of the day’s news and comments.

22 thoughts on “Stop the Litter”

  1. Well done Boris.
    Bit silly taking on 3 youths who might well have been tooled up .
    But it show in what respect the younger generation hold you and that you are known to be on their side.
    They will remember their chance meeting for the rest of their lives.

  2. I live near the centre of my town, on one of the main runs for pub- and clubgoers. Saturday morning is my time for picking litter out of the hedge. Some go to great lengths to insert it deep into the hedge when it would be easier just to drop it, so there is more than mere laziness at work. There is a positive desire to befoul.

    Whilst I once found a full bottle of wine, quite good enough for cooking, I have also had to recover used condoms (I blame global warming.) Food wrappers, fag packets and fizzy beer are normal.

  3. You seemed to get quite chummy eventually, perhaps this could be developed into a new way of encouraging voting. Teams of cyclists properly dressed of course, hunting down cars full of likely looking voters, or non voters, and haranging them at the lights until they promise to vote, for the conservatives ideally.


    Some bloggers, see the link above, have said Boris was too reckless. He could have been attacked/knifed/stabbed. He obviously sussed out the people responsible. You can tell if people are packing, just by looking at their faces if you are streetwise and watch the right sort of t.v.

  5. And that is what you call comedy my friends! I wonder if boris let them have the photo?

    Ok rubbish may not seem all that much of a problem compared to knife crime etc etc.

    Although, i used to live in northwood, there is a park which connects it with northwood hills. There is a skateramp (or rather there was) tennis court, football club and childrens playground. The park was always covered in the remains of lambrini bottles and god knows what else.
    When i was 15 my friend vikki and i had an idea, we vowed to clean up the park as the council werent all too bothered!

    Would you beleive that we managed to get around 30 people all around the same age recruited to help us with our efforts? I kid you not, all armed with brooms dustpans and brushes. We also had a good few with hammers,screwdrivers nails and screws to fix the skate ramp. The sheets of the ramp had come loose and were curling up which was a really big danger to the kids playing on it.
    In total i think we all spent around 4 hours cleaning up the childrens playground, ramp and basketball court! There were many of us from my children’s home the rest consisting of ‘the northwood street crew’ (oh yes) and friends from northwood hills.

    It was amazing how at that age (and with the reputation of youth in the area) that we all got together to do something positive for the area, not one adult amongst us! It may of been down to the fact that it was our idea, we were not forced to do it so had no reason to rebel. I think all of us had just had enough of the state of the park and the fact that children had to suffer the aftermath of the drunken before under the ramp.

    We kept it up for a few days and would often pick up the glass bottles for long after. The only problem being, we lost hope after it soon went back to the norm. Shame really after all our efforts….

    Sorry i really have to say this (i’m not sure why but feel strangely compelled to do so?? i think just this once it feels appropriate to say….)


    (oh dear god help me 🙂 )

  6. @ janina…
    ‘it was our idea, we were not forced to do it, so no reason to rebel.’
    That’s it! Rebel! The last effective rebellion in this country was in 1979, when the public rebelled against the institutional yobbery of the socialists. Unless people stand up and fight, like Janaina and Boris, we’ll get nowhere! We’ll end up hiding in our own houses.
    If I remember this correctly, didn’t New York start hammering crime by starting with litter?

  7. It would be lovely to find a litter bin in central London which has room to deposit litter. I visited the London Eye last Saturday and noticed that virtually every bin was overflowing – what a lovely sight to welcome our tourists. We could take a few tips from Paris, New York etc etc

  8. Don’t they know the phrase ” NIP IT IN THE BUD ” ? Our schools should teach kids not to drop litter on the streets by making them go and pick up rubbish off their school playgrounds at playtime. Why do councils blame the problems of litter on fast food chains and force these shop to employ some litter pickers to pick up all rubbish off the streets around their stores? Whereas the real culprits are the people who drop them because they were not taught not to drop litter when they were at schools.

    You hardly see any litter on the streets in Germany. They are spotless. They plant Rugosa rose bushes along their motorways which are also litter free. That’s is because German kids are taught not to drop litter on streets at school. They are a clean, tidy and order race. It’s not because it’s in their blood naturally. It’s because they are taught to be like that and it sips into their blood generation after generation.

    Then you notice whenever the German immigrate to, say Austria, Switzerland, USA, Canada… their “German towns” are spotless as if they were still living back home. This makes me wonder if some cultures are messy and they bring their bad habits with them to their new lands. If you look at old photos of England taken up to 1970, the streets were very clean, litter free and people took pride in looking after their front gardens, walls, gates and front paths etc…

    But then again, under Labour’s human rights laws, if you made school kids pick up rubbish in the playgrounds to teach them, their parents might sue you.

  9. Oh aye over here it’s a norm to see old mattresses, old cheap looking styled settees, 2 legged coffee tables, broken microwaves or old fridges rot away in the front gardens of some houses in some certain ghettos. There’s no need to live like that.

    Some cities like San Francisco it’s so beautiful and neighbourhood friendly that you wish you could live there forever. Beverly Hills is so beautiful and immaculate that it’s a tour in itself just walking along the flower filled streets ogling at those beautiful little Spanish styled houses or grand mansions.

    Over here, you would need to go to certain areas or venture into the countryside where you will still see beautiful, well kept towns or villages. If you want to keep your areas clean and tidy, you just have to try and you can do it.

    It shows you that not only the San Francisco folks are well known tidy people.

  10. I live in Sydney, and the train station nearest to my school, Kogarah, is so encrusted with chewing gum that in places it’s difficult to see the industrial grade asphalt they used to pave the platforms. It’s depressing.

  11. Yes, Boris is not the sort of man to run off screaming like a girl. When he comments about incidents like these he has something useful and important to say.

  12. Council ordered a JCB and 4 men to remove a dumped mattress

    Oh the men in this country have gone limp wristed under Labour!!!!

    A 68 years old woman pet shop owner is tagged, heavily fined and threatened with jail for selling a goldfish to a 14 years old boy who is 6 foot tall and looks like 16 years old in a police and council co-ordinated sting. When asked if to describe the customer, the old woman said: ” Well, I did not look at his face to see if he has any tache on but he certainly looked very well equipped to be younger than 16 years old to be honest with you all. ”

    Meanwhile the police and the court let an illegal immigrant rapist stay in the UK to marry his German bride under EU laws so he can stay here permanently.

    Oh the police men in this country have gone limp wristed under Labour !!!!

  13. Brilliant Boris however the situation is so out of order on litter that we need radical measures to remedy it. Very few people will take your stance. I have and I have been threatened in consequence. WE need measures like they have in Singapore whre litter louts are made to go around the streets wearing overalls that indicate their offence picking up litter. Drop one crisp packet pick up 10, 000 that is the answr. Fines do not work we have to recognsie this. Zero tolerance maximum humility and total reparation. When will it happen?

  14. If this means expense cheating MPs will be made to walk the streets picking up litter wearing high visibility vests with the words ” EXPENSE CHEATING MP ” on their backs, please do it.

  15. Dear Boris,

    For 2012: Please can you force, persuade or shame all the in-London train operators or track authorities (confused….) to clear up the detritus and litter which lies peacefully lineside and platform adjacent. Thank you!

  16. Well, after all that DID he give them the photo? Did he insist it be taken showing them depositing litter into an approved bin?

    And, most importantly, when can we look forward to a day of celebration, when politicians will be prodded onto bicycles and sent in endless circles on roundabouts, for litter-pelting? I think a quid per toss could quickly clear up any national debt problem, don’t you?

  17. Dear Boris,

    We need more people out there enforcing the law on littering, not only on the streets but also on public transportation. The sheer amount of litter you find in some London buses is unbelievable and people are not ashamed of leaving cans, food and etc. on the floor or on seats. I am sure that if they are REALLY penalised for their actions, they won’t repeat them again.

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