Is Britain the dirty man of Europe? Many complain of litterbugs trashing this country while seeing spotless streets on the Continent.
Yet we have found many in Kent striving to keep our environment clean.
Volunteer litter pickers Paul and Augusta Pearson have collected 529 bags of rubbish in Dover in five months during their near-daily rounds of the town.
Mrs Pearson, 71, was born and raised in Belgium and has regularly visited other European countries on cruises so knows the mindset on the Continent towards litter.
She has been to France, Germany Sweden, Norway, Greenland and Denmark.
Mrs Pearson has noticed greater efficiency in waste collection over there but also an unwillingness by members of the public to leave mess.
She said: “First of all they have big belly bins to compact the rubbish so there is less risk of it spilling over. Bins are also dug into the ground so they don’t fall over.
“In Denmark we saw vacuum cleaning type machines that can suck up cigarette ends from between cobblestones.
“There is also an incentive to recycle, where people get small discounts off their shopping when they return used glass bottles.
“People over there take a pride in their environment. They think:’ This is where we live, we love it, so why would we want to mess it up?’
She added: “Over here people drop litter at almost any age, from teenagers to people in their 30s and 40s. When we challenge people about dropping litter they say: ‘It’s to keep people like you in a job,’ when we are volunteers.
“There is an unbelievable attitude of entitlement, that someone else will clean up for you.
“Visitors to Dover from the Continent say ‘Why are there not enough litter bins, why is it so dirty? You have a beautiful town that is known around the world.’
“Foreigners we meet on cruises call Dover ‘Brown Town’. Over there people clean their guttering and doorsteps yet over here people step over rubbish to get to their homes.”
The couple record the filth in a Facebook page, now called Another fine mess in Dover cleaned up.
Recent pictures include a sofa fly-tipped in Dolphin Passage and a pile of trash behind an opened wheelie bin in Pencester Road.
There is also a classic, a shopping trolley in the River Dour at Barton Path, the object that has been tossed in there for generations.
The couple have been given the status of community caretakers by Dover District Council, having been voluntary litter pickers in the area since 2013.
They pulled out 38 discarded shopping trolleys from the town’s River Dour during 2020.
Kent and Britain are blighted by a sizeable minority of fly-tippers and litterbugs but the vast majority in this country do dispose of waste properly.
And there are plenty of other heroes in Kent like the Pearsons who voluntarily pick up litter: young and old.
A nine-year-old boy has been clearing away drug paraphernalia and face masks strewn in Whitstable.
Ruben Houghton-Robert was left disgusted by rubbish discarded across his town – fuelled by the warm weather and easing of lockdown restrictions.
It has been plagued by a surge in rubbish and anti-social behaviour in recent weeks – with youngsters binging on nitrous oxide, known as laughing gas, and discarding the silver canisters across the seafront.
Ruben cleared about a sack-full of litter every day since the end of the February half-term to the end of March.
He has collected rubbish over one mile a day with both his parents – and raised more than £250 for environmental groups Plastic Free Whitstable and Natural Whitstable.
Ruben said: “It’s quite annoying that there is loads of litter everywhere.”
He has been filling a sack of rubbish within about 20 minutes each day, which also includes alcohol bottles and face masks
His mum Fiona Houghton said: “We’ve seen human poo and all the [nitrous oxide] canisters so I’ve had to do a bit of explaining as we go along,” she said.
“We pick up about five face masks everyday and that is a lot.
“I don’t think he’ll be a teenager who litters when he is older, he’ll be telling other people not to.”
Richard Vassiliou, 54, a taxi driver from Sittingbourne, has been litter picking in his town over the last four years.
This month he was one of 12 people who collected 61 bags of litter, two tyres, one discarded shopping trolley and a length of white gas pipe.
He has told Kent Online: “Because I do a lot of cycling and running, I see it everywhere I go now.
“So I just want to make a difference to the community
“Once you start noticing it, you notice it even more often. It’s not just down to the council to tidy it up.”
“We can all spend a couple of hours doing it and make a difference to our community.
“Sometimes, it’s about what you give and not what you take.”
Jackie Austin, 61, did a similar tidy-up at her town, Queenborough on the Isle of Sheppey.
She has told Kent Online: “We organised to do it through our running group, the Sittingbourne Striders,
“A lot of us from the club live on the island.
“So me and my friend, Louise Wood, decided to do it on the island. We picked up six bags in total.
“We couldn’t believe the amount of litter that was down that road.”
Many are exasperated by the filth on our streets.
A businessman from Hadlow, Tonbridge and Malling, has been driving around in a van with a billboard accusing his council and MP of not doing enough about it.
The sign at the side of Danny Lucas’ vehicle says: “Welcome to the filthy and littered streets of TMBC (Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council) – even the local MP doesn’t care.”
He has explained that official letters of complaint about litter have been sent from residents, supported by more than 500 signatures, to both to the authority and Tonbridge and Malling MP Tom Tugendhat.
Mr Tugendhat said he was pressing the council to solve problems and it is already top in recycling performance in Kent.
It recently made a major difference with clean-ups on main roads, he added.
Yet councils in Kent are noticing more litter on the streets due to the pandemic lockdowns.
Food and drink now has to bought as take-away from cafés and restaurant with countless wrappings and containers having to be thrown away, yet with not enough litter bins to cope.
At least 9,500 public bins are in Kent but some have been left overflowing in country parks and on streets, Kent Online has found.
Cllr Trudy Dean, of Tonbridge and Malling council, said the number of litter bins in parts of Kent are “not sufficient”, particularly in country parks.
She said:”Certainly there are places where bins are not sufficient as people have changed habits during the pandemic.
“When people are going out, as they do more and more in lockdown to get fresh air and exercise, they are having coffee or tea in a single used cup. Bins are becoming full and overflowing with just that.”
Ashford Borough Council’s deputy leader Paul Bartlett said some staff are working overtime to clear rubbish from bins on weekends.
Hotspots include Repton Park and Repton Manor Primary School to the north of the town.
Cllr Bartlett said: “Bins get filled up quickly and overflow.
“Some people are not always taking their rubbish home with them. That causes the bins to fill up.”
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