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The Deep End doesn’t often feature transcripts from the proceedings of a Commons’ select committee, but today we make an exception.

When the Communities and Local Government Committee recently took evidence for its litter inquiry, the contribution of one witness – the writer and humorist David Sedaris – made the news.

Sedaris is very far from being a Katie Hopkins style wind-up merchant, yet in commenting on Britain’s litter problem he wasn’t afraid to speak his mind:

Q99    Chair: Is it a cultural thing? When you go around cities in Japan there is a lot less litter. When you go to Switzerland it always looks quite a bit cleaner. You spend quite a lot of time in the US as well. Are there differences in approach in different countries, in your experience?

David Sedaris: It is funny how many people I have spoken to in the UK who say, ‘Well, it is like this everywhere’. It is not. You have to go deep into Eastern Europe to find it this bad. I lived in France for a number of years. I have never seen anything like this anywhere in France. I lived in Japan for a while. I have never seen any rubbish whatsoever in Japan. It is obviously a cultural thing.”

Fainter hearts may have declined to get more specific than that, but Sedaris – who spends several hours every week picking up other people’s litter near his home in Sussex – was willing to name names:

Q110    Simon Danczuk: Apparently the incidence of litter increases dramatically in deprived areas. Why do you think that is, David?

David Sedaris: Why do I think there is more litter in deprived areas? I don’t know. To tell you the truth, there is a Waitrose not far from me. I found a wine Waitrose bag last year. There is a Tesco Metro, which I think of as a litter supply store, not far away and I find Tesco bags all the time. I don’t find containers that nuts came in. It is fast food. It is crisps. It is candy bars.”

Being American, Sedaris might not be fully tuned in to British class sensitivities – but he clearly touched a nerve:

Q111    Simon Danczuk: Correct me if I am wrong, but you are saying that wealthier people who shop at Waitrose are less likely to drop litter compared to people who have less money who shop at Tescos. Is that right?

David Sedaris: If I am looking at the things that I find on the side of the road, I haven’t found any opera tickets, you know. When I look at what I find if I go down a mile of road, and I take all of that rubbish and if I lay it out, that is the idea that I get.”

If litter is a class issue, then it’s also a gender and generational issue – because, judging by its composition, a disproportionate amount is clearly generated by young males.

However, I think we need to make a distinction between small litter and big litter. Small litter consists of objects like beer cans, cigarette butts, plastic carrier bags and fast-food packaging. Big litter, on the other hand, consists of hideous buildings, garish shop frontages and unnecessary street ‘furniture’ – such as the ubiquitous roadside railings supposedly required to stop us from playing with the traffic.

If small litter is mostly generated by badly-educated youths, then big litter is generated by well-paid architects, bureaucrats and politicians who make it their job to fill our lives with ugliness.

16 comments for: Talking rubbish: Is litter a class issue?

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