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Bottle or a can? You can take your pick

MY latest purchase from an online tax evader is a pair of 32-inch long and strong litter pickers.

For these I paid the princely sum, including postage, of £10.73. Thus, for just over a fiver, I have acquired the wherewithal to become a bona fide scaffie.

On the day the gadgets arrived I lost no time in trying one out. Within a few, fruitful minutes I had filled a large bag with discarded cans and bottles and gained just as many odd looks. A former provost in the burgh in which I live was the first to comment, surprised perhaps by seeing someone of my international eminence performing so humble a task. "Has it come to this?" he asked.

My wife, meanwhile, did what she could to make it appear she was not with me. Her fear is that this small act of civic insurgence might develop into an obsession. Having said that, it is not unknown for her to get her hands dirty. Rarely does she return from a foray to Poundsqueeze & Pennypincher without regaling me with the number of discarded polystyrene cartons and pizza cardboards she's stopped from polluting the oceans. As yet, however, she has not ventured forth with a litter picker in hand. "That'll be the day," she says, like Buddy Holly.

Heroic as our and others efforts are, there is little doubt we are to litter what that wee Dutch boy who put his finger in a dyke is to the threat of flooding. There is litter, litter everywhere one looks. Because we eat and drink so much outdoors we seem to regard space we do not personally own as potential tips. Why, so the thinking goes, bother taking rubbish home when you can leave it elsewhere?

All over our county there are signs telling us that our litter is unwanted and instructing us to get rid of it responsibly. And, of course, many people do, as the overflowing bins attest. But many do not, assured as they are that someone, invariably referred to as "they", will do the job for the them. They, I used to believe, were "the council"; now, it transpires, it's me and mine.

I see few reasons for optimism. One is the news that the organisers of the forthcoming Glastonbury music festival have decreed that stainless-steel reusable bottles will be given to 2,000 road crew and band members in the hope that they'll refill them with water rather than use plastic ones. On top of that 400 drinking water taps have been installed on the site which should encourage the 140,000 "revellers" who attend the festival to abandon bottled water.

We shall see. What is ironic is that Glastonbury, as one disillusioned rock dinosaur has said, is "the most bourgeois thing on the planet". Clearly, he has never been to Glyndebourne or the Edinburgh Festival. But the point is well made. If the green-conscious, carbon-neutral, windpower-loving, holier-than-thou bourgeoisie can't be trusted to dispose of their litter, then who can?

Music festivals of course thrive on self-indulgence and irresponsibility. I once attended T in the Park. I witnessed no one drinking tea and the park was a field which made Soweto look like Bearsden. Squalor is an inadequate word to describe the scene. Wild toileting was endemic and the only reason there wasn't an outbreak of cholera was because the festival only lasted a couple of days. Then, when the bands stopped playing and the hungover crowds melted away all that was left - tents, sleeping bags, cooking utensils, rubber boots used as portable loos - was everything they hadn't been able to consume.

The damage this is doing to the planet is frightening and may soon be irreversible. The seas are awash with plastic and birds are dying in their thousands from eating our waste. The signs could not be more stark. But still we carry on regardless, ignoring the obvious and allowing the negligent and selfish licence to behave badly.

This month the Scottish Government published a consultation paper, Towards A Litter-Free Scotland which at least suggests that it is taking the issue seriously. "Litter," it says, "is waste in the wrong place." Apparently, we spend £46 million a year getting rid of it, more than enough, surely, to supply all of us with a state-of-the-art litter picker.

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Arts and Entertainment

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