10pm, Central line: The carriage is a complete mess. A carpet of at least 20 free newspapers lies scattered all across the floor - two left over from the from the morning and the rest a fairly even split between Lites and Papers. There are a couple more on the ledge beneath the window, wedged inbetween empty lager cans and rotting apple cores. And I'm forced to pick up yet another off the seat as I sit down. Damn, it's a London Lite, but I guess it'll pass the time between here and Mile End. Two girls enter the carriage at the next station. "Oh hell, what a mess!" says one to the other, before reaching down to the floor and picking up a copy to read herself. Most of the other seated passengers are doing the same. It's late - well after the last freesheet distributor has left their post and gone home - so everybody's reading a recycled paper. Don't even think about where your copy's been since it was thrust into an eager hand several hours ago. Later, as passengers get off, they dump their paper back where they found it ready for somebody else to flick through. And yes, I'm leaving mine back on the seat too, because there's nowhere nearby to dispose of it properly. Somebody'll thank me for it, but probably not the litter collector with their big plastic bag at the far end of the line. Assuming they haven't gone home too.
Multiply this scene by a few hundred and you start to get some idea of the environmental drama playing out every weekday night in every train carriage in London. Things were bad enough when we just had a free morning paper, but the evening freesheet battle raises the stakes to ridiculous new heights.
And whose fault is litteredLondon? Is it the evil press barons merrily flogging advertising space in content-lite gossip rags? Well partly. Is it the in-yer-face distributors standing outside stations yelling "Lite! Lite!" like demented automatons whilst thrusting newsprint into the face of every passer-by? Well sort of. But I lay most of the blame at the feet of those whose job it is to run our stations and our streets. Because there are never any bloody litter bins around when you want to use one!
You're getting off your train in the evening, free paper in hand. Where do you chuck it? Not on the platform, because there are no bins on the platform. They'd only get in the way and slow down passenger movement, apparently. Not in the ticket hall, because there are no bins in the ticket hall. Typical, stations can find always room for a rack of fresh Metros in the morning, but there's never any space for a bin in which to discard your London Paper later in the day. Not on the street outside the station either. You might find one of those special newspaper recycling bins on the pavement in Zone 1 when you're going to work in the morning, if you're lucky, but in the evening there aren't anywhere near as many of them in the suburbs as there ought to be (and if there are they've usually already been filled to overflowing with other non-paper-based litter anyway). So what do you do? You leave your paper on the train instead, that's what. If there's only a very small chance of having somewhere to chuck your freesheet after you've got off, the obvious alternative is to dump it in the carriage.
If clearing up after discarded freesheets costs so much, why doesn't somebody invest in a series of recycling bins outside every London rail and underground station? No matter what our homeward journey, we'd know there'd always be a receptacle at our destination station in which to dispose of our tabloid leftovers. OK, so not everyone would use them, but surely if you gave the public a guaranteed opportunity to dispose of their rubbish properly outside every station, a significant proportion of the litter problem could be cleared up. Hell, why not go the whole hog and introduce litter bins inside stations too. Sorry, I don't buy the "but they might be used by terrorists to hide bombs inside" excuse. It doesn't happen, does it? Just ensure that these new bins have a newspaper-sized slot in the front to make them rucksack- and gelignite-proof, and there'd be no problem anyway. And then we could all use these bins to recycle our disposable reading material, and not just end up dumping them all over our trains, stations and streets. Come on TfL, come on Ken, come on London boroughs. If you'd like us to act responsibly, at least give us the opportunity.