Should we pick up other people's litter?

Boy putting a can in a bin

Forget the general knowledge quiz, the most interesting part of the government's new citizenship booklet is that, for the first time, it sets out our civic responsibilities.

The UK government has always been strangely reluctant to spell out what is expected from its people. Citizenship has been an essentially passive legal status involving few demands beyond obeying the law.

But this new list goes beyond legal obligation to incorporate ideas of tolerance, impartiality, social justice and civic duty. This is what it says. If you wish to be a citizen of the United Kingdom you should:

  • respect and obey the law
  • respect the rights of others, including their right to their own opinions
  • treat others with fairness
  • look after yourself and your family
  • look after the area in which you live and the environment
British passport

In return, the UK offers:

  • freedom of belief and religion
  • freedom of speech
  • freedom from unfair discrimination
  • a right to a fair trial
  • a right to join in the election of a government

So the government sees the relationship between citizen and state as, effectively, a deal. But this list is different from the principles behind Britain's post-war social contract which embedded the idea of statutory responsibilities and individual rights. This makes it clear that both citizen and state have obligations.

They are civic duties which have clearly been constructed around the idea of British values: tolerance, fair play, respect for democracy and the rule of law. But do they add up to anything?

Start Quote

Look after the area in which you live and the environment”

End Quote Citizenship list

The concept of fairness, so engrained in current political rhetoric, is given its own civic bullet-point. Politicians, though, argue about what "fair" actually means, and without explanation one wonders whether this exhortation amounts to more than the equivalent of a mother telling her children to "be nice to each other".

The expectation that citizens should look after themselves and their family appears non-controversial - but there are some who may not be able to do that. The frail, the elderly, the sick and the disabled, those who cannot work for some reason beyond their control - these are citizens who may need help from wider society. Are they deemed to have failed in their civic duty?

For me, though the most interesting item on the list of civic responsibilities is the last one. Citizens are told they should "look after the area in which you live and the environment". This, one assumes, is more than reminding people of their legal duties not to drop litter or let their dog foul the pavement. It would appear to be an active rather than passive obligation.

If that is right, this is a great day for public space. Rather than seeing the management, upkeep and improvement of public space as a job solely for the state, this new booklet seems to be saying that it is something we should all be doing.

Rather than telling citizens they must not drop litter, it seems to be saying they should pick it up.

Mark Easton, Home editor Article written by Mark Easton Mark Easton Home editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 356.

    If you lived in Singapore you wouldn't dare drop litter! Why? Because you would be fined! Why can't we do the same here? It would create revenue and jobs at the same time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 355.

    People who drop litter are lazy salad dodgers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 354.

    @292. samxool

    "I admit to letting my dog poo wherever he wants when out for a walk.
    However dog poo is disgusting, so I ain't touching it."

    Then you are not a responsible dog owner. You deserve to have your nose rubbed in it (though I would never do that to a dog).

  • rate this

    Comment number 353.

    How many of us over 35 were always told by a parent (usually your mum) to always drop litter in a bin, if you did drop it - whether accidentally or not - you had to go and pick it up and then put it in a bin. And if there wasn't a bin handy then to keep hold of it until such time as you found a bin or got home? When did we forget such simple lessons?

  • rate this

    Comment number 352.

    To answer the question, yes of course we should all pick up litter if we see it as a contribution to a better and cleaner society.

    There should also be punishments for people who deliberately drop litter, smokers being among the worst who throw butt ends out of car windows and around entrances to pubs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 351.

    Its a parents duty to educate their offspring , this has now gone because everyone expects someone else to do jobs for them , what a stupid nation we have become , PC and HR spring to mind .

  • rate this

    Comment number 350.

    No, we should hammer the litterers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 349.

    Surely not dropping litter in the first place is the key, in fact that's how I interpreted the government citizenship text; surely looking after the area in which you live first means not bespoiling it in first place. By all means pick litter up - and I have to as my house is on a corner so blown waste on bin days and lazy so and sos dropping litter into it are common

  • rate this

    Comment number 348.

    A technicality, perhaps, is that if one were to pick up someone else's litter, then accidentally drop it without noticing, you could be charged £75 - £100 for littering.

    You would be out of luck because you picked up the litter and it becomes yours.

    If you think litter wardens would listen to you when his wages are at stake, you would be hard pressed for sympathy from a judge (plus expenses).

  • rate this

    Comment number 347.

    I watched a street cleaning vehicle zooming along the pavements down town, brushes all swirling. After the vehicle had gone 1/3rd the rubbish was still left behind there.

    Used to be that councils also supplied litter bins. The few that there are get topped to overspilling on the ground or have been removed altogether.

    A windy day It does not take long to mess up countryside from towns & cities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 346.

    people in society have a duty to buying into making it work, So schools, parents everyone should be teaching kids to put litter in the bin that way money spent on expensive equipment and people to clean up could be utilised in other areas special needs and disabled Its not Rocket science

  • rate this

    Comment number 345.

    How about teaching our kids not to drop litter in the first place? How about schools teaching the message, coming down hard on the culprits rather than just a friendly, "Please, pick this up." And that's if they get caught...

    We need to understand that we need to recycle every morsel of rubbish to avoid further environmental problems. What is so difficult about getting the message across?

  • rate this

    Comment number 344.

    This government has a duty to look after and care for the disabled but it has cut funding in every area to the point where children with special needs will soon be without a school willing to take them on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 343.


  • rate this

    Comment number 342.

    I used to live on a windy corner and I always kept it tidy
    I gathered up all the litter, cans, bottles, paper, take away dishes etc, scooped them all into a bag, tied it up and dropped it into my own dust bin.
    Then came the new recycling laws. All that picked-up litter had to be sorted, a large fine if I put items in the wrong bin
    Obviously, I stopped.
    Now I don`t pick other people`s litter up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 341.


    My husband picked the can up and put it in someone's recycling box as he walked by. A few hours later, on the next dog walk, he discovered the same can had been thrown back into the road - presumably by the owner of the recycling box who objected to having someone else's rubbish in their box! There is no hope!
    Unless it was simply another can.

  • rate this

    Comment number 340.

    As for clearing up the mess with this Government it'll take 10 years to clear the mess the Labour Government left behind, if they had been in powr and refusing to makeany cuts we would be in the IMF by now for sure.

  • rate this

    Comment number 339.

    335 - Damian

    It might have something to do with the title of the article...

  • rate this

    Comment number 338.

    A few weeks ago, recycling men had been round - a can was left lying in the gutter. My husband picked the can up and put it in someone's recycling box as he walked by. A few hours later, on the next dog walk, he discovered the same can had been thrown back into the road - presumably by the owner of the recycling box who objected to having someone else's rubbish in their box! There is no hope!

  • rate this

    Comment number 337.

    Too many rights and not enough resposibility.Many people see dropping litter,speeding,using mobile whilst driving etc as ok.Then whinge when caught and fined.i do pick up others litter,but shouldnt have to.people demanding respect,but giving none.


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