I mentioned in an earlier post my frustration with the litter left on Wanstead flats, which I felt especially keenly during the (brilliant) #tidyourflats session that Misty organises with the Corporation of London. It seems that once the weather improves, everyone spends more time outdoors. Now, there is of course nothing wrong with this. One of the many lovely things about living so close to Wanstead flats is how well-used it is by the local community. I love seeing families romping around, young people hanging out together, and dog walkers stomping around out there. But when people finish their time outdoors by leaving behind their takeaway boxes, empty drinks bottles and worse, then this becomes a very big problem.
Seyi, Ellie and I have been discussing recently that the problem seems to have become much worse very suddenly. I worry that there is a bit of the ‘broken windows’ theory going on here: once there is litter around then other people notice that the area is untidy, and in turn have less incentive to take away their own litter, feeling it makes no difference and that they have no power to make things better.*
As well as litter, there is a big problem with fly-tipping too. One can only conjecture on the perfect storm of factors which mean that Newham has such a high rate of fly-tipping, but as with the litter, I worry that the high rate of fly-tipping is itself an encouragement to other fly-tippers, who see it as normalised. The Council spends a huge amount of time and resources clearing up rubbish that is dumped on our streets – I report things I see regularly on my phone using the rather brilliant Love Newham app. Again, I am torn here between being pleased by how quickly rubbish is removed, and annoyed that it was left there to begin with.
It seems that a lot of fly-tipping is done along the edge of the flats on Capel Road (and I need to announce a vested interest here, as it’s where I live). Most of it is the usual collection of boxes, mattresses, and other bits. Some of it is mysterious as well: who is regularly dumping suitcases full of broken glass, for example? And why?!
Depressingly, rather than coming up with a magical solution which I can announce here, I instead wanted to write to share my frustration with it, and to assure the increasing numbers of people in Forest Gate who share my pride in our lovely area, and my anger at those people who sully it, that we do want to improve things. Between us, Ellie, Seyi and I are going to meet with the Corporation of London (who are in charge of Wanstead flats). We also want to chat with the police, and with the Newham enforcement team. It may be that there are some regular perpetrators who, with some intelligence and information from local people, can be caught. It may be that between the Corporation, the police, and Newham, we can better co-ordinate the action we are taking.
I have heard that there is a desire to keep Wanstead flats as a ‘wild’ and undeveloped space, and this is partly why there are no litter bins on there, but I would like to discuss this more with the Corporation as I wonder whether the levels of litter mean this needs revisiting. My personal feeling is that a wild space cannot be very inviting or friendly to wildlife when it’s swilling with crisp packets, but I will be the first to admit that I lack understanding and knowledge in this area.
If you are reading this, and you have any specific information about litter or fly-tipping that you think could help to prevent it, then please do contact us and let us know. Some residents have already been in touch via twitter and our surgery, and told us some hotspots, and some particular times when rubbish seems to be left more than others. This information is really valuable and helpful – we do appreciate it and please keep this kind of intelligence coming! We pass it on where possible, and Newham’s enforcement team are very assiduous in following these kind of things up (although it does take time to do properly) so we are hopeful.
Of course I am certain that no readers of this blog would ever dream of leaving anything behind them other than footprints, but it goes without saying that we should all pick up after ourselves. Everything. Cigarette butts, dog poo, chewing gum wrappers…. all of it. I have sometimes pleasantly spoken to people who dropped things, too, “Excuse me, I think this is yours.” But … whilst I am fervently of the view that I want to live in a world where people engage with each other, and people should participate and help each other, and call each other out when necessary… .at the same time, I am never quite sure whether this achieves anything other than making me look sanctimonious and annoying the litter-dropper. Not everyone is comfortable doing this, either.
So. We will meet with the people and organisations who may know more. We can all report rubbish and fly-tipping using the Love Newham app (itunes link here, android link here). We can all turn up to the next #tidyourflats session. And if you have any other ideas for how we could make things better, do let us know.
*It was a resident who came to see me in my surgery who reminded me about this theory. I confess I had read about it before, but it struck me as particularly applicable when she mentioned it. I won’t break her anonymity, but will include a quick hat tip to R for helping me clarify my thoughts!