Geologists of the distant future may well dub it the “Lucozade Layer”. They would puzzle and postulate over its formation much like their modern counterparts did to deduce the demise of the dinosaurs from a 65 million year old layer of elementary iridium found in rocks the world over.
It has long been a source of irritation to me whenever a shiny new empty pop bottle appeared on the side of my road to work. I never saw them land there and I never saw where they went after my eyes had de-sensitised to their starkness against the grass.
You might describe the B5105 as little more than a country lane – the odd furlong over 13 miles of meander through hill and forest between Ruthin and Cerrigydrudion in rural north Wales.
When I set up a blog page homage to my favourite road I added a mischievous bottle count at the top. Tongue in cheek perhaps, but also firmly stuck out at the litterbugs at the same time. And when one morning recently I saw the latest glimmer in the verge, I decided it was time to put an actual figure to my bottle counter. Project Lucozade was born.
On four consecutive days in March, I set out to walk the entire length of the road, twice – once for each verge - with the intention of gathering photographic evidence of the British road traveller’s untidy habits.
As it was their bottles I noticed skittering along the tarmac and which first got under my skin, I decided to concentrate just on this one readily identifiable brand. I should disclaim at this point however, that other brands of empty fizzy drinks bottles are available to be found along the B5105.
My task would be to investigate the immediate verge only – that which was visible as I passed at walking speed, and from head height. I didn’t want to get involved with fingertip searches – that sort of thing is for the forensic fuzz. And I would be looking for anything with Lucozade branding on it. So an obvious target bottle but which has no identifying labelling (like that shown left) would not be counted.
The B5105, like most of today’s roads, is not at all pedestrian friendly. High banks, verges often measured in millimetres coupled with right hand bends meant for a treacherous survey at times. I soon learned to zone out the cars, the quizzical looks from passing neighbours, and the madness of what I was trying to achieve. But after a close encounter with an overtaking car on day 2 – which actually skimmed my coat, I switched to early morning walks for the remainder.
I soon developed my Lucozade “nose” – a sixth-sense which allowed me to detect a badly mangled and concealed bottle at 20 paces. Whilst the majority of these were scattered among the sward, some of the empties I discovered only from their hollow crunch as I walked over them - last year’s grass (or the year before) having died off and covered them.
As you drive along a road such as this, you might see the odd bit of rubbish here and there and superficially, there appears to be little problem with litter. It is only the more determined litter-aholic like me that investigates deeper and finds that those empty pop bottles haven’t actually been tidied away by the council’s roads department as we might imagine. They’ve simply sunk into the grass then been grown over with a slow submergence into the soil. Many are flattened by cars, shredded by the verge cutter or otherwise just mud-spattered and camouflaged. Every single pop bottle that has ever been deposited on the roadside in Britain is actually still there. And there are hundreds, thousands, of them – even along this short stretch of country road. For every Lucozade bottle with an identifiable label, I found several more without labels, different brands, or other plastic waste such as yoghurt pots, sandwich packs, plastic bags, crisp packets, milk cartons, sheep-lick buckets, polystyrene trays, the ubiquitous mattress and all manner of road-kill.
And then about 21/2 miles from town I discovered the “take-away zone”. This is a band, which extends for about half a mile and which seemed to occur at the finishing point of the late-night fast-food kebab/chips/curry/roast partridge with a black truffle sauce. Often neatly tied into its supplied carrier bag and lobbed into the hedge or down an embankment.
I always thought that my website estimate of 147 bottles might be hopelessly pessimistic. But by the end of day one I already knew that I was on to something. By day two I was fighting a rising spiritual gloom and a conviction that we selfish humans fully deserve whatever is coming our way - as well as the kind of motorist-hatred only a seasoned pedestrian can develop. And by the time I had walked the whole 13.3 miles (twice) and counted 269 bottles – that’s just Lucozade and ignoring the rest of the iceberg that is the myriad other brands, remember - and with a whole load more undiscovered underfoot, I felt it was time to tell the world.
Now, without a solution all this is just one big moan. The modern world, the youth of today etc. And the old tory in me might have some suggestions for occupying the Jeremy Kylesque unemployed between their mid-afternoon reveille and giro collection. Whereas my old lefty self might equally suggest we all hold hands and have a community tidy up followed by an organic picnic and street party. Cuckoo! Cuckoo!
The solution, I believe is recycling. One day, when the oil runs out we’ll be scrabbling round to dig this stuff up again anyway. But recycling without impetus is all very nice but just imagine if every time you handed in a bin-bag full of plastic bottles (around a kilogram in weight) you were paid, say £2. This might be over the odds a little in terms of value. But this would be financed via a levy on the packaging industry and the supermarkets – in a ratio decided in a fight amongst themselves.
After a year or so, by the time the initial flurry of intense paid-for recycling catches up, the lower paid, the unemployed, and kids for pocket money, I believe, would set themselves up in the plastic recovery business. It would only be a matter of time before a highly efficient team of collectors, zoned in to their squashed plastic quarry, would traverse my B5105 and strip it finally of its layers of accumulated rubbish.
What’s more, it would become far too valuable to be dumped any more. And then the supermarkets would invoke the mother of invention to spare them this cash drain and would swiftly introduce a plethora of bio-degradeable alternatives. So who loses here? What are you waiting for, MPs, get legislating and let’s make it happen, so I can once more traverse my B5105 without wincing.
Meanwhile, now I need to de-sensitise myself to Lucozade. I have developed the ability to count empty bottles in the undergrowth doing 70mph down the motorway.