There’s a particularly good scene in Mad Men when the Draper clan embarks on a picnic.
As a pointed dig at the throwaway consumer culture created by the likes of ad man Don Draper, we see this clean-cut family of the 1960s drive off from a beautiful field as the camera pans to the rubbish they’ve left behind.
Contemporary viewers may have found themselves smirking at the unecological attitude on show. But, it turns out, we’re not much better in 2013.
This week, Brighton and Hove City Council had to clear tonnes of litter from its beaches after people spent the weekend partying there. It’s not an unusual occurrence – on a hot weekend last August, 23 tonnes of waste were removed.
Elsewhere, people have been blowing up aerosol cans on a beach in Mumbles, south Wales; 18 tonnes of junk have been picked up along Edinburgh’s shoreline and dogs have been running wild on Shoebury beach in Essex.
None of this is news to Dom Ferris, the campaigns officer for Surfers Against Sewage (SAS). Ferris is a veteran of about 300 beach-cleans, where volunteers get together to pick up litter from beaches en masse. SAS teams clear up anything from cigarette butts to medical waste.
A fortnight ago, the group organised its biggest-ever clean-up with 312 volunteers spending two hours combing Brighton beach for litter, only to see people dropping more as they did it. “The majority of (beach) litter comes from land-based sources,” explains Mr Ferris. “It could be swept down rivers or from inappropriate landfill. Then you get the sunny days at places like Brighton, which are heavily impacted by the increase in visitors. It’s a disgusting sight if you go down in the morning.”
Surfers Against Sewage’s volunteers removed 150kg of litter during their Brighton clean. Thankfully, most of it was light items such as drink cans and crisp packets. But things can get weird. Odd things found by volunteers on other beach-sweeps include things like toilet seats and a fridge. Mr Ferris says: “We recently found a walking stick. Those things amuse, but there are things that are a little bit upsetting. On certain beaches you can barely take a step without finding hundreds of cotton-bud sticks that have been flushed down the toilet (which have blocked pipes and been spewed out by emergency overflows) … things like face-wipes, nappies, condoms – it’s people using their toilets as wet bins.” Which is a lesson in itself. If you want to keep your local beaches beautiful – take your empties home… and don’t flush condoms down the loo.