Coughing up rubbish

Written by

Andrew Millar


July 6, 2009

I sat and watched the sun set through the sea mist that hung in the bays along a dramatically rugged piece of southern coastline. Here velvet green pastures gently slide towards jagged black rocks. Massive slate grey waves hurled themselves at the shore and created a soft background din to this priceless world-class shoreline. Barely a sign of human inhabitants could be seen except for the road that brought me here.

But I could ignore that. And almost ignore the car park that formed the foreground in my idyllic view.

What I couldn’t ignore was the car load of 18 somethings who, having insulted their digestive tracts with crappy takeaway, preceded to drop the wrappers out of the car windows. (…dumb sods, don’t they realise that that is where all the nutrition is in that sort of fast food…)

Not wishing for a fight I walked past and picked up their greasy wrappers and dropped them into a bin, some 3 metres from, and in full view of, their windscreen.

“Nice try, but you missed.” I couldn’t help but comment as I passed them on my way back to my rock to take in the last few lumina of the day. Their retort was to simply look confused.

It seems that littering, like diseases such as tuberculosis, can’t be defeated, just suppressed and will always lurk just under the surface, ready to manifest again once the treatment stops.

20 years ago there were massive campaigns to stop people covering Australia in personal rubbish. ‘“Drop something sport?’” and “’Put it in a bin.’” seemed to work on a generation that was becoming quite ecologically conscious. And public funded groups like KESAB crusaded the idea that rubbish belonged in a bin, not on display.

But this generation seems more selfish. Earlier that day we’d been whale watching… well, attempting to whale watch, we didn’t catch a glimpse… but what I did observe was piles of takeaway containers, drink cups and wrappers littering the car park. There were several places where you could imagine the car had been neatly lifted out leaving a trace of litter to show the outline of where the car once stood. I’m sure an autophile could tell me what make and model the car way from the position of the rubbish.

It seems that just as tuberculosis still lurks within the non-inoculated populations of homeless people that live in the disused tunnels of the New York subway system, littering still seems to lurk, just below the surface, in the disused spaces of some people’s minds.

Perhaps we need to start needling people again.