* In her latest Gazette column, green campaigner Laurel Spooner offers a cash prize to the person who finds the oldest piece of litter in Colchester. Could it be you?

A £100 prize is up for grabs for the finder of Colchester and the surrounding area’s oldest piece of litter.

It could be a bag or wrapper, a bottle, a container or a metal can.

This is a local competition launched to promote the Great British September Clean-Up, which started on Friday and runs until September 27.

All you need do is use your phone to take a photo of the piece of litter you want to enter, making sure the date on it is clearly visible (any litter more than 12 months old is worth entering).

Then send the photo to matt.plummer@newsquest.co.uk

Include your name and a contact number and we will let you know within a week if you are the winner of the £100 and the title of “Colchester’s Litter Hero.”

You will not only be cleaning up our town, but at the same time adding to its history archive.

Rubbish contains valuable clues. Much of what we know about human cultures past and present comes from sifting through their trash.

While the archaeologists dig objects up, the anthropologists study how humans used them and that tells us a great deal about their culture.

In Colchester, capital of Roman Britain, as you would expect, we have many examples.

For instance, a huge dump of oyster shells was uncovered by archaeologists outside The Balkerne Gate.

It was where the main London to Colchester road ran through and anthropologists tell us it was the rubbish from stalls either serving weary arrivals or providing a handy snack for travellers setting out.

So now we know what some of them had in their lunch boxes. Just think what it would cost nowadays!

Colchester Castle Museum has many objects which have been unearthed from rubbish dumps and also dug up from under the floors of houses.

In ancient cities, rubbish piled up so high that houses had to be rebuilt on top of it using it as the foundations for the new homes.

Googling “Colchester Castle Archaeology” brings up a brilliant introduction to the subject, especially if you add “Teachers Notes” - a section where I found a lot of useful information.

Believe it or not there is a speciality called Garbology in the USA and a huge study called the Garbage Project has been running since 1973.

It has revealed all sorts of trends in human behaviour.

For example, communities in times of danger stockpile food but then throw more of it away because they can’t eat it all before it goes bad - just what happened earlier this year at the start of the COVID lockdown.

Interestingly, studying the rubbish individuals put out in their bags reveals an interesting human trait.

Most most people estimate they are drinking around a third less alcohol than the bottle count indicates.

When I put our box out I often wonder how so many got there and what the neighbours must think.

The Garbage Project shows social trends very clearly.

The huge increase in plastic contents since 1973 is predictable but there is also a striking rise in unbroken or easily repaired objects and in clothing which shows hardly any wear.

It’s proof of the throwaway consumer society and the “I have to have more and more mentality which is threatening both the breakdown of our environment and the mental health of people in the world today for whom enough is never enough”.

Back to the exciting “Oldest Piece of Litter Competition”.

Dates before 2014 on litter are unusual as most litter older than that will have disappeared into the ground or been washed out to sea.

But it can be washed up again as the Beach Buddies cleaning group on the Isle of Man showed when they found a coke can dated 1987.

But in 2018 they beat that record with a SQUEZY bottle marked “4d off” only to be matched in the same week by a Somerset group who found a Fairy Liquid bottle also marked “4d off”.

These two items, both more than 49 years old, are the oldest plastic litter on record in the UK as they date from the days when the change in our pockets was in shillings and pence.

So, as you can see, it’s a highly competitive sport and the stakes are high! Could you be the person who picks up Colchester’s oldest known piece of litter by September 27th of this month? Fame, glory and £100 is yours if you are!

For more information on getting involved in the Great British September Clean, see www.keepbritaintidy.org/get-involved/support-our-campaigns/great-british-spring-clean where there is plenty of useful advice and the opportunity to register as the host for a local clean-up of your own. Why not have a go?