Gerry Farrell: Pick up a better attitude to litter

Leith Academy pupils responded well to a talk about the consequences of their littering. Picture: Contributed
Leith Academy pupils responded well to a talk about the consequences of their littering. Picture: Contributed
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‘BLOODY schoolkids”, somebody said to me when I asked them who they thought dropped all the litter in Leith.

Now, I’m used to older folk blaming all the ills of the world on teenagers. Every generation loves to heap abuse on the generation that’s coming next. But it’s an accusation that’s hard to prove unless you get every Skittles wrapper and Coke can fingerprinted. Grown men and women drop litter too. Somebody parks in our street every week and empties all the trash in their car into the gutter – probably not a teenager.

Zsuzsa and I decided to see if there was a grain of truth in the accusation, so we went on an hour-long litter-pick around Leith Academy. We filled two bags, most of it on Lochend Road. As we worked, local people came up and told us it was the schoolchildren and most of the damage was done during the lunch-hour. “They should call it Litter Academy, not Leith Academy,” said one person.

Harsh but fair. So we decided to go into Leith Academy, with the support of the teaching staff, and start an anti-litter project. We spoke to 160 first and second years. “Hands up if you’ve ever dropped litter.” A forest of hands shoot up. “Hands up if you’re always dropping litter.” Almost the same number of hands. “Hands up if you’ve dropped litter today.” A lot fewer hands – but it’s not lunchtime yet. When I ask them why they don’t put their rubbish in the bin, they shrug. The body language says: “Can’t be bothered.”

Full marks for honesty. These Leith teenagers are refreshingly frank about their dirty habits. It’s funny – primary kids love going on litter-picks, doing recycling projects and learning about the environment. But see when that body clock strikes 13, something happens. I’ve read plenty of theories: it’s not cool to look like you give a toss about adult issues like litter; teenagers don’t like to stray far from their group, even six feet to the nearest bin; they prefer chat-chat-chat, munch-munch-munch, litter-litter-litter – they stay as far away as they can from nasty, smelly things like bins.

But theories don’t solve anything, so we go in with some shock tactics. We show them an extract from a documentary made on Midway Island in the Pacific Ocean. Strong currents bring plastic from all over the world to this island, a nesting site for albatrosses: bottle-tops, disposable lighters, plastic drinking straws, Kinder Egg toys.

The adult albatrosses think this stuff is food. They feed it to their chicks. The chicks die a slow, agonising death. The photography turns your stomach and fills your eyes as the film-maker suddenly cuts from a beautiful, fluffy, living chick to a circle of grey, decomposing feathers with a collection of coloured plastic pieces in the centre.

None of the kids watching would want to be responsible for that. These are nice, normal, healthy Scottish teenagers. We have a laugh with them. We tell them what we’re doing in Leith and what we want to achieve with their help. Some of them even take our badges.

This is just the beginning. You won’t persuade many teenagers to pick up litter by preaching at them or wagging your finger. It’s not cool to conform. Besides, they’ve been watching their parents drop litter for years, if the discarded babywipes in every single Leith playpark are anything to go by.

What’s the answer, then? The answer, in our experience, is to start setting an example and picking up some litter. Not your own litter, other people’s litter. It’s time to stop moaning and start doing something.

The best adverts don’t have to cost the earth..or even the moon

It would have been cheaper to shoot the new John Lewis ad on the moon.

It cost £1 million just to film it. It’ll probably cost another £12m to buy TV airtime for it. But it cost nothing to get 9 million people to watch it on YouTube – that’s the best kind of free advertising, when you like an ad so much that you share it with your mates and your Facebook friends.

Sharing an ad? That’s ridiculous. Nobody gives a toss about ads, do they? It’s a fact that 89 per cent of all ads go by completely unnoticed. At last year’s prices, that’s a total of £17.5 billion down the drain. To be brutally frank, that’s because most ads are rubbish.

To stand any chance of persuading anybody to like your brand, you need to make advertising that’s so good that everybody talks about it – online, in the classroom, in the pub and in your living room. That means the people at the heart of the digital revolution need to stop thinking that technology is the answer to making people buy things.

There’s still nothing to beat a fantastic, funny, emotional ad that appears on your telly then gets shared on your tablets, your phones and your computers. It doesn’t have to cost a million either. A really great writer can come up with a brilliant TV ad for peanuts if that’s all you have to spend. In a famous Batchelor’s TV ad, a passionate voice reads out an “Ode To The Pea”. The final couplet says “O pea, how could one improve upon thee?” At that moment, a fork comes down and squashes the pea to mush. The packshot is a can of Batchelor’s Mushy Peas. It must have cost sixpence to make but it sold millions of cans of pea-flavoured mush.

The best ads are simple and they make you feel something.

I wasn’t shaken or stirred

I grew up with Bond movies. I love them. And Daniel Craig is the best Bond since Sean Connery.

But it’s a long, long time since I came out of the cinema thinking that the title sequence was better than the movie.

The first ten minutes of Spectre are excellent. The title sequence, with a black octopus snaking its tentacles around gun barrels and stocking-clad legs, is breath-taking. But after that, tell your partner not to wake you up if you nod off. You won’t miss anything.