‘Responsibility walks hand in hand with capacity and power.’ Josiah Gilbert Holland – American novelist & poet
There are currently 885 litter bins in and around Bath, not including the ones in parks and open spaces, or so the website assures me.
For your edification I can tell you that each is identified – should you abandon train spotting and opt instead for some rigorous bin spotting [good grief – there’s probably a helpline number for this which I urge you to use as soon as you can] – by a unique code on the plaque affixed to one of its sides. So far so boring. They are now such a part of the landscape that they’re barely noticeable unless you are looking to deposit some personal detritus therein, in which case you will be glad to make their acquaintance.
The one above caught my attention last week when I happened to loiter to admire the view and then lingered over the message on the side of it.
‘Does this bin need emptying?’ it asked me in bold, blue letters. This, as you can see, is followed by an invitation to phone the council and let them know whether this is the case.
I find this seriously baffling for several reasons.
- Surely the council have some designated person who is in charge of bins and their emptying schedule.
- Is any councillor seriously relying on the goodwill of the general public to pop them a message requesting a fly by with the ole rubbish van so that the next passer by (about whom they care not a jot I surmise), is not faced with an overflowing sea of discarded packaging etc?
- Does either Joe, or Jo, Public really want to use their valuable time, and phone credit, to contact the local council for the dispiriting activity of being led through a labyrinth of pre-recorded options in order to possibly find someone who may or may not be interested in bin number LB0001, or similar?
- Is this a thinly veiled threat designed to motivate council workers to be more conscientious about fulfilling their job requirements lest the scary general public ‘dob’ them in to their bosses?
- In what world is it my responsibility to check that public litter bins are kept in check?
- Bins that do need emptying often stand that way for days if not weeks. Whilst this is certainly unsightly, are we to assume that such eye-sores are the fault of the general public who are failing in their civic duty to alert the council to something which they have surely deemed their own responsibility by providing them in the first place?
It’s nuts; and I rest my case.
One of the bug bears of modern life is the continual flow of information which stimulates, distracts and/or lands with a deafening thud on our consciences and to which we inevitably react. Perhaps we click an emoji button or string a few words together in response; perhaps the cumulative effect of so much technological gumph kicks in your feeling of overwhelm as it so often does with mine. I have a number of friends who have deleted or frozen their social media accounts simply because the endless stream of information became too intrusive and altogether too much.
Being well-informed is one thing, feeling crushed by the weight of world events to which we now feel an intrinsic need, but more crucially a responsibility, to respond is something else. As crises on both sides of the pond ferment into potentially ever more inflammatory scenarios of terrifying proportions, and the Middle East lurches form one slaughter to another, everyone has an opinion, an answer or a plan, except possibly the people in any position to action them. I can be informed then, but for what can I truly be responsible in such contexts? In years gone by, we would never have even heard of some of these situations until weeks or even months later when news trickled back via steam ship post or such like.
Whether we like them or not, it’s our governments who make policy and deal with these unwieldy events; sometimes it feels as though they’ve been turned into a Saturday night reality show on which we can all vote for our preferred outcome.
In such moments I fall back to the old cliché but eternal truth that while I don’t know what the future holds, I am reassured that I know who holds the future and continue to trust in His goodness regardless of the apparent idiocy and poor choices of those who I think should know better. It also helps me vent in a healthy, damage-limiting space…
As a new year and decade begins, I have been keen to remind myself that I am not actually responsible for every emergency in the world. I do not have the political clout to break into diplomatic discussions. I am grateful for the opportunities to contribute my thoughts on policies and petitions, and use my votes as thoughtfully and strategically as I can, but I cannot afford to lie awake at night eaten up with anxiety over situations beyond my sphere. And that, I can assure you, includes my local litter bins.