Croydon is covered in rubbish. So what are we going to do?

By - Monday 14th March, 2016

Charles Barber announces a community campaign for a cleaner, greener and more beautiful Croydon

This March there’s a nationwide campaign to encourage schools and community groups to ‘Clean for the Queen’, to make their local areas more tidy and attractive by organizing litter-picks in time for the queen’s ninetieth birthday. Commendable as such projects may be (and I think that each of us should engage in one communal litter-pick every year), I suspect that it will only have a temporary impact on the state of many of Croydon’s litter-strewn streets.

Most of the people joining the litter-picks will not be the ones who have dropped the litter in the first place. The problem of changing the hearts and minds of people who just don’t seem to care what sort of environment they live in remains.

To improve the look of Croydon and persuade people that dealing waste in a responsible manner is a civic duty that they should be pleased to perform, we must tackle the root causes of the problem. How can we persuade our fellow citizens to care about the appearance and reputation of Croydon? How can we make them see that taking pride in one’s local environment is actually also a way to take pride in oneself? How can we persuade people that we all have the duty, the ability and the privilege of making Croydon a more beautiful place in which to live and work in?

Why do so many of our fellow Croydonians turn the place into an ugly and continually-replenished rubbish dump?

OK, I didn’t say that it was going to be easy. My wife and I have been trying to persuade passers-by in our busy Croydon street that we do not appreciate them dropping their litter in the front garden of our small block of flats. We have put up a sign warning of a CCTV camera, but after nearly a year I must confess that we have had only limited success. Perhaps rearranging our bins, so that the ones for recycling are nearer the pavement than the one of non-recyclables, has meant that more cans and bottles have been put in the right receptacle. Perhaps our little sign has meant that there’s slightly less litter than there would otherwise have been. Perhaps we have occasionally deterred our fellow residents from fly tipping on the site. Yet my wife and I still regularly carry out our own litter-pick just to make our front garden look more like a garden and less like a tip. And when I see how swamped in rubbish a nearby side street is, I seriously wonder why so many of my fellow Croydonians turn Croydon into an ugly and continually-replenished rubbish dump.

Changing hearts and minds is seldom easy and requires a sustained effort both from local communities and those in authority, such as the council and police. I believe that stressing the benefits of living in a cleaner, safer and more beautiful environment, and enabling local people to create such local spaces in their own neighbourhoods is the best method for achieving success. If we can persuade a majority of people in a given area that they want and can actually have a nicer place to live in, then that is what they will eventually get.

Of course, punishing offenders who drop litter or fly tip can also play a part in this campaign, and I congratulate Croydon police on prosecuting more of them. But it does seem to me that using the justice system more vigorously is only a small part of what we, as proud Croydonians, need to do to make Croydon a more attractive and cleaner place to live.

Has Croydon has a serious recycling education campaign to teach people how to do it properly?

I believe that we need both clearer and more decisive action from those in authority at the council but also more determined, innovative involvement from local communities. I must confess that I was somewhat surprised to find that, according to the very useful Sita web site, the borough of Croydon’s household recycling rates were better than a number of other London boroughs. Worryingly , however, they seem to be falling, dropping more than 2% from 42.2% in the year 2013-14 to 39.9% in the year 2014-15. This compares unfavourably with neighbouring Bromley’s 48% and is far behind an authority such as North Somerset, which currently has recycling rates of more than 60%.

Many of our residents just can’t be bothered to recycle properly. I’ve frequently noticed cardboard boxes in our landfill waste bin and often, even when citizens do try to do the right thing, they don’t manage to do it properly. Instead of putting cans and bottles or food waste into the right receptacles, they first put them in plastic bags and then put them in, so immediately mixing up two different forms of waste.

I am a fairly new resident of Croydon and do not know if the council has run much in the way of an education campaign in the correct processes of household recycling, but if it has done so, it’s had limited success. I would therefore urge the council to have an annual recycling week each year, in which residents are encouraged both to recycle properly and engage in community litter-picks.

Ask not what Croydon can do for you, but what you can do for Croydon

This could be linked to other community-led projects to improve the appearance and health of their neighbourhood. Both the Saffron Central crocus growing project and the energetic Friends of Park Hill Park have shown what can be achieved when communities come together to change their environment. With London’s population set to continue rising for the foreseeable future, and many of our native habitats and species in serious decline, there has never been a more appropriate time to bring a bit more green biodiversity into our cities. Of course, I recognize the need for more affordable housing and places for people to work, provided that there are the jobs, but wouldn’t it also be rather wonderful to turn some of Croydon’s derelict brown field sites back into green field ones?

So I will be taking part in a new initiative: the campaign for a cleaner, greener and more beautiful Croydon. We want to work with others to help to create a Croydon that is not only prosperous and exciting but also a more pleasant, attractive and healthy place to live. If you would like to join my colleague and fellow Citizen writer Max Shirley and me on this doubtless difficult but hopefully rewarding quest, we invite you to join us at our first meeting at 4:30pm on Saturday 23rd April at the Oval Tavern, 131 Oval Rd, CR0 6BR, five minutes walk from East Croydon station.

If you are unable to make the meeting but would like to be kept updated on our progress, please  and we will add you to our mailing list. If you are tired of asking the question, ‘What can Croydon do for me?’, and not getting a very satisfactory answer, why don’t you come and find out what you can do for Croydon?

Charles Barber

Charles Barber

Adoptive Croydonian, currently trying to publish a book and find gainful employment within the Croydonian urban jungle. Environmental campaigner, Twitter@rainforestsaver, founder of the Croydon Rainforest Club and of the Friends of Whitehorse Park.

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  • Becky Clark

    I recommend making contact with the Thornton Heath Community Action Team. We regularly hold litter picks, planting days, and work with the Council to reduce litter and flytipping. The north of the borough is doing its best to improve!

    • Jonny Rose


      Just a quick comment to say that – having observed all the stuff you guys are doing every weekend in Thornton Heath on Twitter – you are all very, very awesome. Keep up the good work :)

    • Charles Barber

      Thank you Becky, I will definitely do so, and probably ought to come and join one of your litter picks or planting days as well.

    • Becky Clark

      Thanks to you both – and we’d love to see you at one of our days! Always advertised on our website, you can sign up for emails, or check us out on facebook and twitter.

  • Jonny Rose

    Hi Charles,

    This is a great example of what I spoke about here (

    “We need to understand that Croydon isn’t just a place where you just happen to lay your head at night – it’s a place that you can influence. It’s up to you to make things better.”

    This ‘spirit’ of this campaign and the material efforts made by you and your wife are exemplary. I hope Croydoners are inspired to follow suit and attend your meeting instead of relying on other people to do it.

    • Charles Barber

      Thanks Jonny for your kind words. Hope you might be able to make the meeting as well.

  • Max Shirley

    I’m very much looking forward to the first meeting as we start to make Croydon more clean, green and beautiful!

  • Zilch UK

    Do hope that those of you working on litter in and around Croydon will sign up to the national network of individuals in the UK working to eliminate littering. We can give practical advice and help with tactics and strategies. Visit our website, sign up for our occasional newsletter and follow us on Facebook or Twitter – see you there.

  • Andrew Dickinson

    Thanks for the article and campaign Charles. My displeasure with litter and my personal efforts in keeping my locality litter picked was inspired by my childhood/schoolday experiences when a class took it in turns to pick up playground litter after each breaktime. When in the cubs we cleared the Purley Way playing fields after events on there and even Epsom Downs after the Derby. I think it starts with young hearts and minds and therefore taking a campaign in to schools. Observing people in town it seems such experiences have skipped several generations. Spitting,chewing gum blighting the pavement and fast food debris are three areas that need tackling.Walking home via the South End restaurant quarter this week there was a tsunami of rubbish blowing south/north it was like several bins had just been emptied and allowed to blow away. Anyway I could go on.

    • Charles Barber

      Thanks Andrew. I completely agree that we need to do something with schools and would be interested in developing a workshop that teachers in Croydon schools can use to persuade their students to take proper responsibility for their waste resources. At the same time, adults that should know better need to be made aware that if they carry on littering up Croydon, they may have to pay fairly substantial fines, and perhaps even do some communal litter-picking as part of their community service.

      • Andrew Dickinson

        I’ve heard first hand and second hand accounts from parents/recycling pros that if you educate the children then they go home and educate the parents and the same could happen with litter

  • Ca Mi

    Just recently was selling a house in Thornton Heath and was suffering for the past few months, almost whole year! Nobody really wants to buy a house in a big rubbish bin which is Whitehorse Rd next to High Street…. Almost day and night was cleaning my front garden, still full of rubbish with a light breeze! Even my neighbour used to make dirt and fill in my rubbish bin with their black bags!!! Actually not a place to live. Sadly house is on sale for almost 50K below market price just for this reason!