Documenting Graffiti, Signs & Stickers: Interactions with Bins as Expressions of British Identity

I’m proposing that graffiti and stickers found on bins and the signage connected to littering represent a microcosm of British attitudes, opinions and culture. Before you dismiss this as rubbish (!) have a look at this selection of images taken in London, mainly since 2019.

The image below was taken at a bus stop in March 2019 the day before I attended a huge anti-Brexit protest in London. I like the fact that both sides of the argument can be witnessed on the defaced Bin Brexit sticker, with its logo showing a human throwing a package – presumably symbolising Brexit – into a waste bin that is surrounded by the star symbol of the European Union. The logo and the word BIN have been crossed out; an additional capitalised NOW follows the word Brexit. But the slogan we want our future back has been left untouched; revealing that both sides of the argument desire the same goal:

A sticker placed on a waste bin in a London park last summer perpetuates the theme of bins as a site for political commentary. The text BORIS IS A BIN BAG combining humour, irony, disgust and anger:

My assumption is that the WasteMAN text below is another reference to Boris as this is one of the many names he has been called. Indeed this phrase was projected onto Eton, Johnson’s former college, by the group Fck Boris back in 2019 and you can even buy Boris is a Wasteman T-shirts. The word general on the white sign has been crossed out leaving a laconic wasteMAN, juxtaposed with a trash can symbol. Seen on Hampstead Heath earlier in January 2022:

More humour. NAT HAS HERPES, photographed in 2021 in Canonbury . This tag was apparently first witnessed in London 2017. I feel it is related to the I Farted in Yoga graffiti currently seen around the city in terms of being both a bit infantile and alluding to body stigma or embarrassment :

The first bin/graffiti combination image I’ve found is this iPhone picture shot some 10 years ago or so In Portobello Road. I can’t find the original file but like the image for it’s silly yet nihilistic humour:

The next series of photos reflect Londoners’ opinions and attitudes with regards environmental issues. On a kerb in Hampstead the words The Sea Starts Here #Bin The Butt have been written in pink chalk alongside some drains. The chalk graffiti is temporary and can be washed away, unlike the cigarette butts :

The following four images were taken on Hampstead Heath in the period since March 2020 and reveal changes in signage resulting from the Covid_19 pandemic. Below, colourful temporary chalk graffiti stating LEAVE NO TRACE, which also happens to be a movement promoting conservation and sustainability. As more and more people exercised and met on the Heath since the onset of the pandemic, littering became an increasing problem.

This was exacerbated during the pandemic by the actual removal of bins, including those for dog waste. However some people obviously found it difficult to comply or adapt to taking their litter home with them as evidenced by this display of scattered plastic bags around the sign:

I can’t help associating the photograph below with Magritte’s 1929 painting The Treachery of Images, which features the image of a pipe with the words Ceci n’est pas une Pipe (this is not a pipe) written beneath. This is a representation of a bin but is not a bin: Seen on Hampstead Heath during the first London lockdown in March 2020.

The following photograph was taken just prior to first lockdown in March 2020; the public health sign emphasises the importance of binning germs to avoid spreading germs with a combination of image and text featuring a catchy slogan:

The next two images reveal extremely dissenting attitudes to government guidelines when it comes to Covid_19. Below, a euphemistic DITCH THE MUZZLE sticker, part of a campaign by conspiracy promoters The White Rose, is displayed on a litter bin in Regents Park, September 2021:

Next up, anti-vaccine graffiti on a recycling bin which happens to be very near a couple of schools on Highgate Road, juxtaposed with a newly discarded Christmas tree. The graffiti equates the vaccine with a ‘death jab’ for kids:

Finally, and in contrast, some positive, feel good graffiti seen on a bin in Canonbury in January 2022. This put a smile on my face, and I can imagine the perpetrator of this graffiti dancing under a disco ball. Litter is transformed to glitter with the addition of a gold painted heart and letter G:

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