Litter – according to Amelia

Amelia Warde (12), the NSW rep from The LITTLE Committee spoke at TEDx Manly on 22 February 2014 about litter.

Here is her speech.


Over 50 years ago a little story book called Bottersnikes and Gumbles was written as people started to realise all the things they were throwing on their rubbish heap was going to effect their future. Rubbish was starting to accumulate and be absolutely everywhere, and in those days rubbish heaps where spread everywhere throughout Australia. Every farmer, every factory and every home had a rubbish heap where all manner of rubbish was thrown. From tyres to steel cans, from stoves to old cars. The author of the book was one of the first environmentalists. I recently pulled it out from behind all my new grown up books to reread it. I remembered back to when it used to be read it to me at night as a little kid.

The author, S. A. Wakefield realised littering could be reduced by entertaining the hearts and minds of children. She wrote about two opposing groups of imaginary creatures, which were thinly disguised parodies of different opposing human groups in the environment. The litterers and those who clean up after them. The bottersnikes were the litterers. They lived in rubbish heaps and ate old magazine food pictures, they had noisy parties and were incredibly lazy. The Gumbles on the other hand were industrious, much given to having picnics together, cleaning up rubbish  and being friends with all the bush animals, much like environmentalists.

Today we face a similar problem and I believe it is time for new ideas, a change and a refocus on littering where it really counts in the hearts and minds of  children. It’s not that littering is new, far from it, it is millennia old.

What has changed is our awareness of right and wrong when it comes to littering. Strangely we hold in our hands the power to abolish all forms of human life and yet the  dumping of litter and rubbish is still an issue.

We dare not forget today we are heirs to the only  beautiful and life giving planet that really matters to us all. We are the new generation of humanity and I believe we should be unwilling to witness or permit the continued desecration of our planet to an uncaring or uneducated minority.  We are committed here today in Australia and around the world.

Keep Australia Beautiful decided that they would create a committee of children under fifteen armed with the knowledge that people over fifteen years of age throw away 98.5% of Australia’s litter in public – and here I am today presenting to you all.

So wait, do children throw away litter?

Yes these children are the undiscovered ones — the uncaring and uneducated Litterers.  They litter in schools everyday. They litter in schools where you can’t see them, they litter in the corners of buildings, they litter by walking away from their dropped rubbish, they litter quietly, sneakily and deny their actions.

But its not just children who litter is it?

I believe littering is not a misdemeanour it’s an indication of a lack of honesty, a  failing of society, a lack of moral decency.

No society can endure when its members are lacking in honesty of character.

There is an honesty of character  in our community, in our nation and in our global society which enables trust between people, exactly as there is an ethos or moral compass in the individual and if the individual commits acts of littering then denies those unworthy acts, and loses moral direction by the constant repetition of those acts, then these acts of littering discredit the moral strength of our whole society. We cannot stand  aside and let this happen to us, the new generation of humanity!

My idea to  prevent this global problem is by developing  reward strategies which encourage school children not to litter, and critical changes such as school staff no longer picking up children’s rubbish. A potential rewards strategy is one that motivates and encourages schools and students to create a cleaner environment in their school.

There are many examples of this approach in the adult world. The tidy towns, Clean beaches awards, and the cleanup Australia days. We can strike at the epicentre of littering by engaging schools and school children in these types of contests inside their own schools.

Now some would suggest that the scale of our ambitions is too big, too great an ideal. I deny this, one simple idea can make a difference, can change the world.

This new idea for a clean school contest could be called “emu parade” after the Australian name of the litter drive used to pickup rubbish as a group across playing fields, paddocks and in the bush.

I hope  the effort we make  to reduce littering will develop trust and honesty in the next generation.


  1. Gil says:

    great work amelia! I particularly like the part where you talk about litter. Wowza that was inspirational. Go garbage girl!

    • Amelia Warde says:

      Thanks green Gil. Ever since I was a wee environmental warrior, I was fascinated by the beauty of nature and the world around us. What can I say, I’ve stayed green ever since 😉 keep smiling, garbage girl!

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