Litter is not a modern phenomenon. The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) first started working to clean up our countryside in 1927. Long before that, humans had a propensity to interpret nature's abundance as a sign that it was limitless and would freely discard unwanted objects into their environment. Not far beneath the garden earth in my area of North London, ceramic flagons of gin and thick glass bottles of beer can often be found - a reminder that, for a long time, we have prioritised consumption over preservation.
For many of us there is now an emergent sense and a definite belief that we are close to reaching the end of this particular road. Increasing resource scarcity and choking levels of pollution mean that many industries, and therefore many brands, are re-evaluating how their products are produced and marketed - the realisation has dawned that environmental stewardship can actually save money and be a powerful selling point.
Which marketer wants to see the brand they've worked so hard to build flying flag-like from a tree?
Of course, this reality is materialising in parallel with the push for ever-greater heights of consumer consumption within all markets, including that of convenience retail - an area in which advertisers and marketers are key. And this increase in and variety of products and packaging that are being developed to be consumed on the go leads directly, if not exclusively, to a commensurate rise in litter and waste.
In 2013, while gin flagons are no longer gaily tossed into the air, we pay more than £1bn annually to clear litter in England alone. In the countryside and along roadsides, in waterways and our seas, much of this discarded waste - cans, bottles, wrappers and bags - just lies there, garish, ugly and virtually indestructible. Its previous accolades of having an instantly recognisable shape, an eye-catching design and improved taste are now, essentially, meaningless, as it pollutes the environment, kills and maims wildlife and spoils our enjoyment of beautiful and familiar places.
Many companies say that it is not their fault when someone throws their packaging away irresponsibly. Their understandable position is how can they possibly be responsible for littering when all they've done is create a product and sell it? They question how far their responsibility should extend beyond the point of purchase.
They might argue that they are not responsible, but I would argue they should care that this is happening. Which company, marketer or advertiser wants to see the brand they've worked so hard to build and promote flying flag-like from a tree or covering verges the length of this beautiful country?
We know that many of the big brands cry: "We are at the mercy of consumer demand!" But, as we also know, consumer interest in provenance, company ethics and the impact of products on the environment is increasing, never mind the wholly recognised power of advertisers and marketers to influence what consumers think and want.
Beneath it all and in spite of an economic climate that promotes innovation, the reality is that many of these companies are loath to do anything their competitors aren't doing in case it affects their image and their bottom line.
I recognise that the insight of writers isn't often cited as required reading for the boardroom or, indeed, marketing strategy. But perhaps we should heed the words of the novelist George Eliot, who once said: "The strongest principle of growth lies in human choice." In essence, we have a choice as to how we achieve the growth we want.
As you know, growth doesn't just relate to an increase in market share, profits or operations. It also relates to developing our ideas and perceptions, our expectations of how things are done. True growth and development cannot be achieved by steadfastly adhering to the status quo.
So my question, and my challenge, is how can you - the marketers and leaders working with big companies - use your influence to encourage a greater commitment by the food and drink industries to make positive anti-littering messages part of their product?
As the designers and communications experts charged with maximising the value of these brands - both their tangible and intangible values - how can we market the anti-littering message in a way that reflects the stated commitment of many in the industry to reduce waste?
Can you and your colleagues revisit your work on packaging design and find a way to incorporate a "don't litter me" message? How, in fact, can "don't litter me" become a positive message, something that brands would want to include on their products (beyond the tiny and arguably meaningless Tidyman logo)?
Away from the product itself, in advertising and social media, how can your brands communicate with their consumers in a way that promotes this type of message: "People who enjoy this product throw the packaging in the bin"? Please get in touch and let me know your thoughts, as we genuinely want to understand what might be possible.