Attitude Adjustment

Lee Andrews, CEO of DOC Cleaning, reports on how social responsibility for cleaning need to change.

Every now and again a story makes you sit up and take note and for me this happened during the recent 2018 World Cup in Russia.

The story was about how at matches featuring Japan, their supporters brought blue bin bags with them into the stadium to clear up their litter after the game – a combination of food debris plus the packaging for what they had eaten and drunk.

Why did this happen? Answer – because in Japan children are taught to clear up after themselves both at home and at school. They grow up in a culture that prides itself in cleanliness and this transfers to whatever activity they are involved in.

I can vouch for the fact that the football story was not some great big publicity stunt, as I was lucky enough to visit Tokyo recently and can confirm it is the cleanest city I have ever visited. People are not even allowed to smoke on the street and there is no chewing gum.

Can we say the same about the UK? Sadly not. During the recent bank holidays, thousands of kilogrammes of waste were collected from British beaches, including things that would make your stomach churn.

And it is not just beaches: I am sure we’ve all seen examples of poor attitudes to disposing of waste. Things did not used to be this bad, and it is a sign of our failure as a nation to take personal responsibility for our behaviour that local authorities are now going down the route of issuing fixed penalty notices to people who drop litter.

Crazy, isn’t it? If you cannot persuade people to stop behaving in a certain way, just make it illegal. The value of penalties issued is already in the millions.

This reminded me that a few years ago the phrase ‘Personal Social Responsibility’ – aka PSR – started to gain ground as an alternative to the ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ (CSR) that was emerging as the corporate world’s way of offsetting its own excesses. Whatever happened to PSR? Regrettably, it seems to have fallen by the wayside and maybe the reason is that, in the UK at least, people find it easier not to take personal responsibility for things, reckoning that someone else will do it for them – littering being a case in point.

As the industry tasked with cleaning up litter, what can we do to push back against this seemingly irresistible tide?

Well, the answer’s probably that we cannot do anything on our own, but what we can do is support wider initiatives, like the recent campaign to recycle plastic bottles and paper coffee cups. Couldn’t we launch a joint scheme with the manufacturers of recycling bins to monitor the volume of plastic bottles and paper cups moving through our clients’?

waste streams – information that could be used by clients to put pressure on their own staff and encourage personal responsibility for waste.

The fact is David Attenborough will not be around forever to film the world’s disrespect for the environment, so as the people who handle the rubbish every day of the year, maybe we need to get working on it.

Published in October issue of Tomorrow’s Cleaning.