IS there anything better than a warm summer night at Henley Beach? The cool water gently lapping your toes as you walk along the soft sand, the smell of fish and chips wafting from the nearby kiosks, children laughing as they play under the neon pink and purple sky.

And if you’re really lucky, you might not step on a beer bottle. Or a greasy cardboard box with a half-chewed prawn tail in it. Or a cigarette butt. Or a syringe, dirty nappy, busted thong, broken umbrella, plastic cup, juice box, dirty towel, soiled kids’ swim shorts or any of the other bits of crap that are routinely left on the sand there.

In fact on Monday night, when I took my dog for a walk on Henley Beach, there was so much litter you could barely even see the sand.

What was meant to be a relaxing stroll turned into a fiendish test of pain tolerance and endurance as I dodged discarded chip packets and soft drink cans scattered every few metres. There were so many bright green Boost Juice cups on the sand the place looked like it had been astro-turfed.

You know that “Tuff Mudder” event where people pay to subject themselves to a torturous obstacle course in the name of fitness? Next time, just go for a wander down Henley Beach after a long weekend — it’s cheaper.

But actually, it seems this problem isn’t just limited to long weekend crowds. A quick Google of “Henley Beach rubbish” reveals a string of news stories reporting the problem dating back several years.

“Locals plead with Henley Beach visitors to pick up after themselves as heatwave renews rubbish debate,” reads a headline from January 2014.

“Residents call for action on escalating rubbish at Henley Beach,” reads another from January 2013.

“Warm weather and party season bring the litterbugs to the beach,” reads a third, from February 2011.

Call me crazy, but if Henley Beach is being trashed every time there’s a hot day, perhaps it’s time to do something about it?

Charles Sturt Council reckons it’s done its part because they’ve put a few wheelie bins around the place (all of which were full to overflowing on Monday night), and they’ve stuck up signs asking people not to litter which, as I’m sure we can all agree, is a foolproof measure.

They’ve apparently also got a “Community Safety Officer” who can fine litterers $315 a pop. Which is excellent, except litterers have to agree to accept the fine by giving their name and address. Unsurprisingly, most don’t. Pointless.

Clearly though the rubbish problem cannot be blamed entirely on the council. Yes, more and larger bins would be helpful, but no one with any care for the environment ever left a pile of trash on the beach because there weren’t enough bins.

The heart of the problem is people’s attitudes. Too many people just don’t care.

When I grew up in the 1980s, KESAB — “Keep South Australia Beautiful” — was an ever present message. Every school lunch was followed by an “emu parade” to pick up rubbish, and littering was drummed into us all as a cardinal sin, only marginally less serious than murder.

Now the very thought of leaving rubbish on the ground makes me break out in a cold sweat.

Not so the new generation, apparently, who seem to feel no guilt in walking away from their rubbish, hoping someone else will collect it — or not caring what happens to it at all.

We’ve spent so much time and money shaming smokers, drinkers, drivers who text. Perhaps we need to get back to basics, and teach everyone how to pick up after themselves again.


Originally published in The Advertiser, October 10, 2015. Click here to read the original article.