I recently returned from the Gulf island of Saltspring in British Columbia where a winter population of about 10,000 trebles in summer with the influx of visitors like me.
Here I encountered an unusual entrepreneur called Reg who has taken to providing waste bins and recycling boxes around the main village of Ganges.
Reg can be seen outside on most days picking up rubbish from the park, harbour and the downtown village area. Although the islanders are already paying for public litter bins out of their taxes, he is supported by residents and visitors alike. They recognise that it only takes .01% of the population being thoughtless to cause an ecological disaster as litter dropped on the streets quickly washes into streams and the sea, polluting the very delicate ecosystems the islanders depend on. They drive the island's two economic engines; its organic agriculture and the tourism drawn by the natural beauty.
courtesy of Salt Spring Photos
Around the town there are bins marked 'SSI Clean-up By Donation' and local people say Reg's effort has reduced littering and pollution. Meantime he has told Salt Spring Photos he is making a living on the donations people give when they meet him out working every day.
Reg has created a job for himself in an environment where traditional avenues of island wealth creation; logging, construction etc., are very constrained, dangerous or unsustainable. Apparently the broken-window effect is working here too: by keeping Ganges spotless, less litter is being dropped in the first place. And he is not the only self-appointed garbage collector; when I took a walk on one of the many trails leading out of the village, I noticed there was a lot of litter on it but a couple of days later, I overheard in a coffee shop it had been collected by a volunteer who was arranging for its removal from the trailhead.
The ethos and spirit of the community found on Salt Spring Island is renown, though I think it's not that unusual in Canada. Canadians have a reputation abroad for earnest likeability and spending time on the island teaches you that self-sufficiency requires generosity to your fellow islander, not isolation from their problems. You don't fix crime on an island by putting up higher fences around your property but by figuring out why the thief wants to steal.
I wonder if someone taking this kind of initiative would succeed in the UK? Could you ‘adopt’ a busy area - such as Crouch End in London - and if someone took responsibility to keep it free of litter, would there be enough community spirit in people to reward it, as they do in Salt Spring? I have tried in vain so far to find a similar example of such initiative anywhere else.
Postscript November 12, 2011
It’s a given that Salt Spring Island is contagious, but I wonder if this example in Los Angeles is connected?