If grey nomads pick up litter, will others follow? ‘Yes!’ say experts

One of the things most likely to send grey nomad blood pressure surging is the sight of piles of litter at roadside stops, beauty spots and remote campsites.

While at times the sheer scale of the problem – commonly coupled with an absence of available bins – makes the task of conquering the problem appear hopeless … that doesn’t deter tens of thousands of community-minded grey nomads from doing their bit.

Bob Kellett is one of them. A while back he explained his plan of attack.

“I carry a pair of gardening gloves and a small supply of large garden rubbish bags,” said Bob. “If the bins at the site are full, then it doesn’t take any more fuel to carry the rubbish out and deposit it cleanly and safely elsewhere when the opportunity arises.”


Like many travellers, Bob sees Australia as his back yard and feels an obligation to do the right thing.

“If we, as grey nomads, set the example you can rest assured that it will rub off,” he said. “ … eventually!”

And he has a point, it seems.  Dr Joan Harvey, a psychologist at England’s Newcastle University, says there is a ‘group effect’ at play.

“If somebody else starts picking up litter, you’ll start picking up litter – if nobody does and they all walk past it, you’ll walk past it,” she told the BBC. “Once somebody starts to do something, others start to do it.”

Since 80-90% of us are followers, we need someone to take the lead, she says.

There is also a psychological theory known as the ‘Bystander effect’ which also might be a factor in people’s litter picking action or inaction. This states that not only are many people reluctant to be the first to act but, the greater the number of people not doing something, the more they feel they don’t have to either.

And for those who ignore the litter issue, saying it is the responsibility of the local council or Mains Roads, or somebody else, Dr Harvey suggests this ‘excuse’ can be an example of ‘post hoc attribution’.

We walk past the litter and “look afterwards for reasons why… whether they’re true or not”, she told the BBC.

  • Do you think grey nomads should ‘lead the way’ in the battle against beauty spot and campsite litter? Email us here to share your thoughts.

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