For 20 years I've lived beside a public golf course. I play on it twice a week, and stroll over it most days.
It's extraordinary what I find: discarded undies and knickers (especially in the summer), cigarette lighters, towels, loose coins and bank-notes (though not frequently enough), wallets (always returned to the club-house), mobile phones (same), clubs and club-covers (same), remnants of clubs (smashed against trees in anger), unopened cans of beer and energy drinks (cheers), wrecked umbrellas, old socks, disreputable caps, odd shoes (but never a pair), bottle-tops, cigarette packets, plenty of single-use plastic - and lots of little white round things. I can't remember when I last purchased a golf-ball.
But mostly it's empty beer cans and bottles. And I try to pick most of them up. My golfing partners are often bemused to see me clamber under the shrubbery to gather a can or bottle. I don't know why. It only takes half a dozen heartbeats and the place sure looks better. I place the stuff in rubbish bins or take it home for recycling and reuse. We've got hard-working green-keepers. It must dishearten them to see bottles and cans strewn mindlessly under trees or in drains. Or ever so artfully in the fork of two branches.
And I'm not talking about a few. In two decades I must have removed some 15,000 cans and bottles. That's an awful lot of casual acts of indifference, carelessness, and irresponsibility.
My hoovering won't grant me a knighthood from a grateful nation. Nor have the golfing gods ever rewarded me. After I've crushed a homeless beer can and placed it carefully in my golf-bag my next shot is just as unpredictable as before.
But it gives me some satisfaction to think that over the years I've tidied up a small mountain of rubbish to allow the sunshine and shadows to play seductively on fairways adorned with nothing but grass. That way, no matter where I finish in my foursome, I've still cleaned up on the course.
And if I just walked past, averting my gaze? Well, the park would soon resemble the Ogden Nash poem:
I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree.
Indeed, unless the billboards fall
I'll never see a tree at all.
Maybe it's time to try the profit motive. If people won't tidy on civic-minded principle, perhaps they will for money. But our government or councils don't offer that inducement.
New Zealand officialdom doesn't seem interested in requiring a mandatory deposit on containers to encourage their return by consumers. It's not like that in Australia, most of Scandinavia, and a number of US states, to name a few.
And we don't have reverse vending machines - a device accepting empty beverage containers and returning cash to the user, as in Germany, for example. That's probably because of lobbying here by the beverage industry, which doesn't want its sales diminished because of an extra charge at point of sale.
Maybe the beverage industry has got it wrong. We Kiwis might in fact be more willing to buy the beverages of those manufacturers who are prepared to chance their arm for the environment's sake. And the heftier the charge the better. How about a dollar a bottle or can? That would see fewer such containers lying around trees or beaches. They might in fact be a blessed rarity. And our choice of a beverage priced in a way that will pretty well ensure its container will be responsibly returned for reuse or recycling would proclaim each user an eco hero.
In the meantime, let's applaud those admirable initiatives or organisations which are out there, getting rid of the stuff which too many of us toss blithely away to blight our land and marine environment: Project Jonah, Sustainable Coastlines, EcoEvents NZ, the Herald on Sunday's Beach Busters campaign, and many more, including the Watercare Harbour Clean-Up Trust.
Sponsored by Watercare, the trust works year-round to clean up litter from the Waitemata and Manukau Harbour waterways. Since 2002, its boats have removed almost 30 million individual pieces of litter. It makes my 15,000 bottles and cans seem positively paltry.
Never mind. I'm still going to tidy up on strolls and during my golf games - even if my swing remains as much a highway under construction as ever.
John Parker is an Auckland freelance writer.