'˜We can change attitudes on this problem' - Amey education officer on tackling litter in Sheffield
Litter-buster Millie Guthrie revealed she has now become '˜obsessed' with rubbish '“ and admits the problem of crisp packets and coffee cups thrown on to the ground has '˜taken over her life'.
She acknowledges cleaning the streets of Sheffield is a ‘tough task’ – but says the ‘tide is turning’ on attitudes.
And she says litter in the city has declined since she took her post.
The litter chief tours schools and colleges trying to get the message across that dropping litter is unacceptable.
Millie, who is education officer for Amey, the council contractor responsible for keeping the streets clean, says it is about getting the message out there early to four and five-year-olds.
Get that right she says, and small children are more likely to carry that ethos with them through life and nag their parents when standards slip.
Millie is also keen to get the message across that it is taxpayers’ money which pays for the daily mass clean-up operation – so litter louts end up paying without realising.
“It’s a really simple message – it can’t be much clearer – put your rubbish in a bin,” she said.
“When I go out and talk to schools and colleges people ask me, ‘what’s your message?’ I just say ‘put your rubbish in a bin’. I couldn’t really be much clearer – it’s that simple.”
More than £4 million is spent in Sheffield every year picking up the mess left by inconsiderate people who drop everything from pizza boxes to chocolate bar wrappers.
And the city council stresses this huge figure could be better invested in vital services for the people of Sheffield in times of austerity.
Millie said: “What I tell people is the money that we spend on litter is people’s taxes.
“Ironically it’s people who drop the litter who end up paying for it. It’s people living and working in Sheffield who pay and I really think people don’t join those dots up.
“People’s perception sometimes is the council pays but then you think ‘where does the council get its money from?’ It’s from the residents.
“Our staff do a tremendous job and work incredibly hard cleaning up the streets but they’re not the ones dropping the litter. It should be a case of if you drop it you pick it up.”
Changing attitudes is another challenge Millie hopes to overcome. This starts young with getting primary schoolchildren involved with litter picking but also educating older people about keeping their area in tip-top condition.
“Our perception of what’s normal and socially acceptable can change,” Millie said.
“People will remember when drivers and passengers didn’t wear seat belts or remember people smoking in an office at work.
“We don’t do any of those things anymore – you’d be horrified if somebody lit a cigarette inside a restaurant. That’s what I want with litter.
“People are very quick to blame other people or people from a particular area of Sheffield.
“There is litter in all places – some more than others – but if everyone did their bit it would dramatically improve.
“You don’t have to be part of a big group to make a difference.
“If everyone chipped in and did their bit Sheffield would see a huge change for the better.”