To set in order-that's the task.

After breakfast we walk to the end of St Kilda Pier to get all the stiff joints working, and every morning I'm reminded how fortunate we are to be living so close to the great openness of the Bay. 

I can't remember when I first started to pick up litter on our walk, first in our short street then gradually the rest of our regular route.  The pier itself is never littered much for some reason

Anna isn't at all embarrassed by my eccentricity but it slows her down, so now I leave a bit ahead of her and she catches me up at the Pier.  She's always concerned I might pick up an infection so I reassure her that I don't pick up food or cigarette butts, or plastic gloves and needles (the latter are pretty rare anyhow) and that I religiously wash my hands when I get back.  At first I placed handfuls of rubbish in each litter bin progressively as I passed, but now I take a grey plastic supermarket bag from home and leave the full bag in a skip at the end of the Pier; it's easier to carry and my hands don't get soft drink sticky.

There are some mornings after the night before where there is always more litter, Friday morning is one of them!  Why is more stuff consumed on Thursday night?  Any hypotheses?

I may be imagining it but (except for Acland Street) I think there's been less litter along my route since I started a couple of years ago, particularly in my short street; the power of example I like to think? 

Acland Street between Fitzroy Street and the shopping centre is one of the streets with the most pedestrian traffic and the most litter; there just aren't enough litterbins and a number of them are in the wrong places which limits their effectiveness.  Acland Street is also always littered an exact Big Mac's distance from MacDonalds on the Bay side of the street.  MacDonalds created this rubbish and should take responsibility for its collection!    

Why do I pick up rubbish?  I certainly don't do it to attract attention, I'm still a bit embarrassed to pick up in front of people and I usually wait till they pass.  I must look like an eccentric old man and many people avoid eye contact and hurry past, although the odd passer-by says 'Good on you mate'.  

Largely it's because I find streets strewn with the detritus of our wasteful consumer society distasteful and it's simply my gut reaction to the fuck-you attitudes of those who drop litter anywhere.  I suspect my age is probably a factor too with sub-conscious prompting by JFK's famous exhortation. 

I rationalise to myself that all the bending and stretching is good exercise for an old man and it gives me the same perverse putting-in-order satisfaction as mundane tasks like emptying the dishwasher and putting the clean things away in their proper places.

WH Auden wrote about this impulse in hisNew Year Letter(1940) and I often think the following lines must have been written with architects in mind as their primary task is to impose order in all sorts of overlapping functional, constructional and visual ways:

To set in order-that's the task
Both Eros and Apollo ask:
For Art and Life agree in this
That each intends a synthesis,
That order which must be the end
That all self-loving things intend
Who struggle for their liberty,
Who use, that is, their will to be.

I limit my rubbish collection to my morning route and I don't stray too far from one side so it doesn't interrupt my walk too much.  However, when I walk down Acland Street to the shops at other times I ignore the litter like everyone else; there's only so much one person can do and I have no desire to become a full time unpaid rubbish collector. 

 I'm always a bit disappointed when I don't fill my bag, which is a bit perverse as logically success would be an empty bag and I should be pleased at the (very) occasional lack of litter!

Port Phillip Council does well in my opinion, cleaning the beach and reserve regularly, cleaning up after the weekend market and after events and in major places.  I don't have sympathy with those who think it should all be the responsibility of the Council, and get annoyed that shopkeepers don't sweep and pick up rubbish outside their premises when it's in their commercial interests to keep their immediate environment clean, but I'm not in favour of yet more regulation, I'd rather see hearts and minds change!

A lot of householders do pick up the litter outside their own houses but it's a problem when it comes to the greater number of apartment buildings with their letterboxes full to overflowing with old junk mail.  It's too easy for each of the tenants to assume some one else in their building will clean up.  Perhaps it should be made the job of whoever puts out the wheelie bins, and they could also clean up after the trucks as they often leave a spill of litter behind them.

There are groups of people who have regular Sunday morning clean ups of their favourite places in coloured t-shirts complete with slogans.  Good on 'em I say although it seems a lot of to-do about something that should be automatic.  

Most of the rubbish is commercial packaging, the elegantly thin aluminium cans, glass and plastic bottles, milk shake and coke containers and drinking straws, MacDonald wrappings and those disturbing cigarette boxes. A surprising number of the water bottles are half full so I water the nearest thirsty tree. 

I'm always on the case to pick up small non-biodegradable and eye-catching things like red and blue plastic bottle tops and those little white plastic forks and spoons.  Other than all this predictable commercial trash, the most common items are parking tickets, retail receipts and Kleenex tissues.

If an alternative to dashboard parking tickets could be found it would make a big difference.  What if motorists who hand in ten parking tickets got an hour free?  OK if that wouldn't work, think of a better incentive!  The Kleenex are mostly unused and straight out of MacDonald bags.

I don't see any of this as a big deal and don't place much importance on it.  All my examples are of my immediate area but it's the same everywhere.  It's just something I do automatically and hope others will also start to do what 'both Eros and Apollo ask'. 

I was therefore wryly amused when Anna's grand daughter age 5 in explaining who I was to a little friend, said, 'He picks up rubbish!' 
At 85 writing this fortnightly blog and picking up rubbish seems as good a description of my current life as any!

Don Gazzard LFAIA
February 2015

 

 

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