Diary of a Lone litter-picker: you know you are British when

You find yourself unable to speak if someone drops a lit cigarette on the seafront where children walk barefoot.

A well-dressed person throws litter and you can’t bring yourself to ask if it is something they accidentally dropped.

Not knowing what to say when someone rises from their seat on a train leaving their coffee cup, crisp packets and sandwich wrapper on the table.

You are left wondering whether leaving your neatly folded newspaper on the train is a gift to the next passenger or makes you guilty of littering.

You pick up a decent looking carrier bag hanging on a tree only to find it has dog poo inside.

Being overwhelmed by the amount of plastic carrier bags you save.

Being overwhelmed by the amount of ‘Bags for life’ accumulated by your household.

Your shopping trolley is full of food that has been reduced simply because you can’t bear the idea of waste.

You can’t bring yourself to buy a helium balloon. The world’s supply of helium is being depleted.

You can’t bring yourself to buy rubber party balloons for fear they will get into the ecosystem and kill dolphins.

You cover perfectly serviceable clothes in ink in a futile attempt to refill your computer ink cartridges.

The drawers of your desk are full of plastic bags for re-cycling ink cartridges.

Most arguments with those you live with centre around what can and can’t be recycled.

You find yourself washing up plastic milk bottles and empty cans of dog food so they can be re-cycled.

You start removing plastic from your friend’s kitchen bin as you are sure they can be recycled.

Your garden begins to look like a scrapyard because you are not sure what do to with the old car parts you find littering the countryside.

You pick up what seem to be lost items, only to discover they are (a) stolen (b) discarded (c) both.

The inside of your car is all sticky from recycling tins and bottles.

Finding the car full of empty bottles and bags of recycling when you are off to a wedding.

Being infuriated when you can’t throw rose petals over a bride and groom coming out of a church wedding because it is classified as ‘littering’.

– Please do add your own comments below.

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Diary of a lone litter picker: finding lost items

Almost every day I go litter picking it proves to be an adventure. Truly. I find lost things, usually gloves or vehicle parts but treasures too. I return what I can to the rightful owners using the local community Facebook page – within reason.

I have found:

A selection of balls – lots of tennis balls

A shuttlecock

A horseshoe

One half-chap

Unused cable ties

A marine pump accepted by grateful boat owner

The guard for a yacht’s compass:

~I had to ask what this item was. It is unbroken~

Amusing children’s toy that flashes and bounces

2 x bags that once held camping equipment

A picnic chair folded into a sleeve

A brand new ‘disposable barbecue’

Pair of secuteers, rather blunt – so possibly chucked

Brand new tube of Ibuprofen gel

Euros 15

Toy sand moving vehicles

A selection of yachting caps – most have to be thrown away but some can been redeemed. One was labelled and returned to its owner.

When is a half-used can of Jungle Formula insect repellent lost and when is it litter?

I once came across a red plastic chopping board washed up on the coast. Lost or discarded?

I’m sure you will have seen abandoned pub glasses, left behind when the taxi arrives. I could equip my kitchen if I didn’t return them to nearby pubs. How many are taken outside and left for others to gather?

~Stolen, abandoned or both? This was returned to the nearest pub~

And then there is the manna:

2 x unopened bars of chocolate

Huge quantity of potatoes that fell off a lorry that drove past while I was wondering what to cook for supper

2 new unopened cans of larger

Total of 5 x unopened and brand new bottles of larger

A large bottle of Dutch beer. Litter might prove my salvation.

 

Rubbish mouse nest in bottle

~A mouse’s nest made in an old milk bottle. I left it alone~

But what of the risks?

How many people are injured or killed by litter?

I spent twelve years living in southern Africa. We noticed that mosquitoes breed in stagnant water found in old car tyres and drink cans. If we removed the litter from an area the mosquito population dropped overnight, often to zero. Malaria is one of the biggest killers in the world. It was once prevalent in the UK. We need to stop litter and control rubbish worldwide to reduce the spread of this disease alone. To read a litter about recycling accomplished by Environment Club members in a corner of rural South Africa, please click here.

~Broken bottle found where New Forest ponies graze~

To read about my travels in Africa, please find a copy of ‘Ride the Wings of Morning’

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Diary of a lone litter picker: what I take to collect marine rubbish from Solent shores

Rubbish - Beach clean 13th May

I found this heavy duty bucket, a pink feed bucket and an orange one, washed up on the Solent shore where I’ve been collecting #plasticpollution over the years. They are not that big but, since it is important to collect small pieces of plastic, each one often holds 250 pieces of marine rubbish by the time I head home. Two of these prove all I can carry when full, especially if I come across glass.

My aim is to collect litter every day rather than exhaust myself by doing too much at one time. I find buckets better than bags that blow about in the wind. I can collect broken glass, setting the bucket down to reach difficult pieces. A larger pannier with flip-up lids, might be good for windy beach-cleans but I use these feed buckets gifted to me by the sea. They make picking up bags of other people’s dog poo bearable.

Rubbish - white pony with litter

I usually put on Wellington boots, an old jacket with pockets for things I might keep and wear a hat suitable for getting under bushes. I take a mobile phone in case I get stuck in the mud or need help. This is used to photograph and record my findings. That’s it. The rubbish has been washed clean by the sea, so I only wear gloves when it’s cold.

Having said this, I am very careful how I pick up harmful waste. Batteries and old flares can leak caustic chemicals.

I find odd things that have grown into the landscape and require tools before they can be extracted. I needed to take a pair of secuteers to cut a polystyrene tray out of a black thorn bush on the coast. The vegetation had grown around it.

Rubbish - polysterene

At times, I find so much rubbish that my pink bucket is often not large enough but I can’t carry more back from remote areas. I return for glass bottles. They don’t blow away.

Rubbish - organge bucket with ground sheet

Traffic makes it dangerous to collect litter from roadside verges, even on country lanes. It can be terrifying. I have decided to avoid certain main roads. Do look up the Keep Britian Tidy website and gen-up on safety issues if you decide to go litter-picking. You need to wear a high-vis jacket of some kind. I take my orange bucket, wear rubberised gloves and barbecue tongs to reach into hedges. I prefer tongs to a litter grabber.

Litter-pickers working in groups along roadsides tell me it is essential to wear High Vis tabbards and have Men at Work signs put out if possible. Apart from offering safety, the jackets give you status, encourage PR chat and interaction with the public. The litter can be filthy. Some take a bottle of hand sanitiser.

Rubbish buckets at nature reserve

~Litter collected from a 100 meters along a lane in the New Forest National Park~ 

I sometimes take three buckets: one for tins, one for plastic and glass bottles and one for general waste. It cuts time when it comes to sorting the rubbish for recycling afterwards when I’m tired.

I re-use old plastic containers with decent lids to dispose of ‘sharps’ and keep a stock of plastic bags supplied by the council. I have hand-held luggage scales to weigh them. A full black plastic bag can weigh between 5kgs and 10 kgs.

I have just bought a small tally counter. Once you get used to clicking in with the same hand that is holding the bucket and the dog lead, it is a huge encouragement. See if you can guess how many items are in this bucket before looking at the counter, bottom right.

Problem items include road signs, bollards and sand bags that the council don’t regard as their property. They get left by contractors. I find a huge number of car parts that need to be taken to the dump. I would have loved to send all these things to build a stage at Glastonbury or something that would be of use.

Some councils are very well organised. Please click here for an example. They request that you ask permission before collecting rubbish. Whilst I have checked with my local nature reserve, my own council didn’t respond. Not with-standing this, I walk the pavements and pick up what is not meant to be there. I can’t think who would object.

Rubbish - litter heroes ambassadors logo (2)

It is good to survey an extreme area before you begin. There is one filthy bay on the Solent I still need to tackle. It requires a planned attack, removing the broken glass first.

Do record, what you find, keeping lists and a map of where you have been. We now have an informal network of people in our community who look after different roads in the area. Do register with Keep Britain Tidy, who will send you details of Health and Safety, posters and more info.

For details of how you can help or donate please see Keep Britian Tidy’s website here

Daily Mail Online

~Sophie Neville collecting plastic pollution from the Solent shore. Photo: Daily Mail~

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The diary of a lone litter picker: 20 reasons why it’s good to collect trash

 

As a child, I collected sea shells on the beach. Now I walk by the Solent, pulling rope and other litter out of the springy coastal turf, finding rubbish that has literally grown into the landscape. I often find litter that looks as if it has been previously ingested by New Forest ponies that graze the area. Some plastic had been around for years. How old is the Mars Bar wrapper or the bottle of Fair Liquid in this photo?

As I work, I’ve been thinking up reasons why it is good to collect litter:

  1. You can make a difference – improving the environment very quickly.
  2. Items that are potentially harmful to wildlife and pets get removed.
  3. Quantities of glass, metals and plastic can be recycled instead of languishing for years.
  4. It is an easy way of paying back the natural world and society for the good things we freely enjoy.
  5. A huge amount of satisfaction is gained by logging findings and looking back on the results, especially when you map the area.
  6. It is satisfying to be able to return lost or stolen items to their rightful owners.
  7. You can find interesting or useful items – including things you’ve lost yourself.
  8. You occasionally find money.
  9. As your eye adjusts, you begin to notice all sorts of interesting things.
  10. It broadens your appreciation of the natural world and can become relaxing.
  11. It is a productive way of keeping fit especially if you bend.
  12. It gets you outside, exploring your neighbourhood by using footpaths and lanes you might not walk along.
  13. At times you can litter-pick while walking the dog.
  14. It can be social and an amusing activity to do with friends.
  15. It is a way of meeting new people with good intentions.
  16. You invest in the future: If you take children litter-picking they are unlikely to throw it.
  17. Once you collect litter it is less likely re-accumulate. Litter attracts fly-tipping.
  18. You gain an insight into social problems in the area that need addressing such as theft and drink driving.
  19. You tend to receive encouragement and moral support, especially from neighbours.
  20. You become more diligent about your own recycling.

Could you add to the list? Please use the comments box below.

~ Returning used egg boxes to the community shop ~

One Thursday in May –

I decided to count how many pieces of #plasticpollution I could pick up from the Solent shore in an hour. Since this was along a section of coast that I have been cleaning for years, most of the cellophane, plastic bags and other items had been washed in on the tide, so it took longer than litter picking: 101 items in one hour.

~101 pieces of plastic pollution washed up on Solent shores ~

One Friday in May –

Tonight I walked westwards along the Solent shore, thrilled to find a plastic feed bucket, an unopened can of larger,a torch, a new tennis ball and a cap. I also picked up a helium balloon, black tubing, an empty bottle of rum and various pieces of rope from the fishing industry. My dog spotted an old flip flop.

~50 pieces of rubbish washed up on the Solent coast~

One Monday in May – 

Since New Forest ponies, wildfowl and other animals graze on Solent shores I am keen on collecting broken glass. There is no wave action, so it remains sharp for decades. I can’t bear the thought of swans’ feet being cut. I collected this much in an hour but failed to reach it all.

I met two South Africans on the beach who told me more than fifty tonnes of rubbish had recently been washed onto the shore near Durban in the recent floods.

~a cap, 2 balloons and about 50 pieces of rubbish and broken glass~

For a full list of items I’ve found on the same stretch of coastline, please click here

How many items could you collect in an hour? Were any useful? Please note your findings in the comments below.

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Diary of a lone litter picker: why do people drop litter?

Why do people drop litter? Name the sin. Is is because they are lazy or something more? What do they think will happen to a broken umbrella left in a country lay-by? I find plastic that has been carefully folded before being chucked into the New Forest National Park.

Does throwing unwanted stuff away give people a carefree feeling? Does it give them release, a drop of dopamine? Make them feel cleansed? Is it a symptom of something more? In her autobiography, Michelle Obama cites ‘bitterness’ as one outcome of what Barack Obama described as ‘a cynicism bred from a thousand small disappointments over time.’

I find quite a few glasses taken out of pubs and abandoned rather than returned. What’s this defined as? Isn’t it petty theft? Incarnate laziness? Drunken, callous behaviour that is becoming seen as normal, even acceptable? Or a mixture of all three. And what is the outcome? Broken glass on the pavements?Surely an increase in prices to cover the cost. I found a glass and took it to the local pub only to be told they didn’t want it back. A perfect, straight-sided glass tumbler that just needed washing. Their plan was to break and re-cycle it. I was shocked by the abject acceptance of waste. Break up a perfectly good glass? The bar staff gave it back to me. I filled it with flowers and gave it to a friend.

Tonight I decided to walk in the bluebell wood – possibly one of the most beautiful sites on this planet. I took my bucket doubting whether I would find much. I soon began collecting empty bottles of alcohol that had been tossed out of high vehicles into the wood. Had people been drinking while driving work vehicles such as vans or trucks?

I then came across more than I could possibly carry. Hub caps, lights and other vehicle parts had been dumped on this private property, just a little way from the road. I could tell by the date on the crisp packets that accompanied them that they had been there since 2005. It was heartbreaking. Most were still in good condition and looked to me as if they might have re-sale value. Was this theft or had someone been instructed to dump them? I have found more than seven different lots of stolen items in the past. You can find the list here.

When does throwing litter become fly tipping? In the relatively small area where I have been collecting litter I have found:

A broken security light

A piece of carpet and a bedspread

Huge bag of unused incontinence pads

Clothing of a dubious nature and an umbrella

A life-sized doll

A large rusty metal wheel-barrow

Lorry tyres

A huge number of vehicle parts including wheels

25 litre drums that once held bleach or other chemicals

~a drum that once held chemicals bitten repeatedly by a fox~

Fly tipping is outraging the New Forest community, where the National Park receives helpings of heinous proportions. It costs the New Forest District Council thousands of pounds. Why do people dump rubbish in beautiful, fragile areas? Is it because they find the municipal dump too expensive? or can’t get there? or are too lazy? Do they not understand that ditches are needed to carry flood water? Do they not see fly-tipping as a crime against farmers and the natural world? Or is it a form of rebellion? Do they mean to hurt us, cost society effort and money moving it on? Name the sin.

Some sites would be classified as abandoned, rather than chucked. You do find evidence of emotional distress. Can you see the pair of brand new walking boots to the right of this photo? Make out the tent? Much of the rubbish I pick up has been left by tramps. What’s the sin? Is it ours? Are we neglecting those in need? Not reaching out to the homeless and addicted?

Rubbish tramp

~the result of homelessness and alcohol abuse~

This litter and rubbish is growing into the landscape. I find myself pulling plastic and rope out of the earth, especially in places once inhabited by tramps who are apt to pick quite scenic spots. I need help from someone with waders and crowbars to dig plastic out from the Solent shoreline.

Most of the litter I found related to alcohol had been flung out of vehicles. How many people are over the limit whilst driving? If I can find 200 empty bottles and cans in lone lane how many thousands lie forgotten in the New Forest? What’s the sin? Drunk while driving.

We need rubbish bins fitted in vehicles as standard.

John Wesley said, Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.’

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Diary of a lone litter-picker: concluding the Great British Spring Clean

I normally spend at least an hour each evening collecting rubbish from on the Solent shore with my dog. It’s extraordinary what you can find. I have a list here. (see also : Twitter #Solentbeachclean)

This year, I signed up as a volunteer for the Great British Spring Clean with Keep Britain Tidy. On 22 March, I began collecting litter chucked onto the banks of the Lymington River in the New Forest National Park before it could reach the sea. My personal challenge was to keep going, every day until the 23rd April when the Great British Spring clean officially ended.

The initiative inspired me remove rubbish from the ditches in earnest. Ours is a very beautiful area. I like working alone as I can go out when the weather is appropriate and fit in litter-picking with my work and Solent tides.

~A stolen handbag found in a nature reserve~

The results of my efforts:

Litter collected in one month: Total: 1360 minutes ~ about 22 hours

97 x glass bottles, milk bottles and occasionally jars – all recycled by my husband. About 5 of the bottles were half-full with vodka.

300 x plastic bottles including plastic milk bottles chucked into the river where there is a sign saying ‘Otters Crossing’.

I small bag of plastic bottle tops – saved for MENCAP

300 x empty drink tins – mostly alcoholic drinks found road verges. People must be drink-driving

9 x large rubbish bags of mixed litter, weighing about 60kgs: sweet wrappers, crisp packets, sandwich wrappers, disposable coffee cups with lids, drink can wrappers – often neatly knotted, cigarette packs, stubs, old lighters, plastic tobacco bags as well as socks, gloves and other items dropped by mistake.

This doesn’t sound a lot however,  when I counted the items, it could take 1,000 pieces of plastic to fill a typical black bag. It could take only a few. Conservation International say, ‘Every day approximately 8 million pieces of plastic pollution find their way to into our oceans. Well, I’ve reduced that a by tiny bit.

Stolen items found:

Jewellery box with sentimental treasures including a wrist watch, a silver filigree broach and a bracelet engraved with the name Shirley

Leather holdall containing a pair of embroidered slippers.

HP laptop with a silver coloured case

Empty leather jewellery box for earrings

Apple iPhone

Acer laptop

Discarded make-up bag (possibly from a stolen hand-bag)

Handbag containing spectacles, make-up and hair brush but no valuables – was able to inform the owner who is coming to collect it.

Vehicle parts found

Part of the bumper of my husband’s car. ‘I thought it would turn up sometime.’

4 x wheel hubs (one claimed after I put it on display)

Wing mirror

Tow-bar cover (given away as a present)

Car radiator

Car bumper – a huge white one

Space-saver spare wheel for a car

Motor tyres x 5

Back shelf of estate car

Metal rod and rubber seals

Reverse light cover – undamaged

5 – litre diesel container with fuel inside

2 x mudguards from bikes

Rubber roller from a RIB trailer – (returned to grateful owner)

Grey grill off a Mercedes – undamaged (anyone want to claim it?)

 

Council signs found buried in ditches and the estuary

Men at Work sign

Narrowing road sign

Part of a chevron sign someone drove through

3 x temporary road sign stands

Tall black and white stripey bollard

Police bollard

3 x plastic bollards and a sandbag

I wasn’t quite quite sure how to cope but a volunteer from the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust collected the heavy tyres. I’ve piled up road signs I found for the council to collect but he rusty a metal wheelbarrow still needs removing from the ditch that carries floodwater.

Time spent:

Week one: 325 minutes

Week two: 60 minutes

Week three: 430 minutes

Week four: 395 minutes

Week five: 150 minutes

The results have been uploaded at Keep Britain Tidy  What I need to do in future is to record how far I have walked and map the stretches I’ve cleaned. I still have to tackle this dirty beach. Three loads have been removed but more awaits. Anyone want to take it on? Otherwise, you can help by pledging your support for the Great British Spring Clean here

As for me, I will continue to walk my dog with a bucket in one hand. It would be too awful to lack a container when I came across rubbish. I’ll keep a list of the things I find for this time next year. However, the project for May is to clean out our garden shed and the clutter in my own office.

 

 

 

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Diary of a lone litter picker: week 5 of the Great British Spring Clean

 

Rubbish sluice gates

~Litter chucked into the Lymington River~

Day 29

‘Are you winning?’ my friend Alastair asked on the phone. I think so. The challenge to clean up Britain seems endless but once litter is collected it is less likely to re-accumulate.  I’m certainly seeing a reduction of waste washed up on Solent shores.

This evening, I make my way into the muddiest location of all: the tidal estuary.  Will I ever be able to clean it? Although tidal, it was been used as a sewer for years.

I walk past dinghies moored below the pavement only to come across a sodden bedspread, green with algae and seaweed. It stinks. I scoop it into my bucket, adding other rubbish – plastic bags, wrappers and stacked Costa coffee cups – before spending twenty minutes collecting broken glass. 30 minutes work. No wonder nobody walks here at low tide. It’s lethal.

 

Day 30

The dog is so longing for a walk, I take the Solent Way up to our local monument. A stream runs from this point down into the estuary. Could it be carrying rubbish with it.

I reach the monument to find it has been renovated beautifully. The stream is running clear but why would anyone leave a can of anti-antiperspirant here? Is it being inhaled? I once found a brand new micro-wave oven, in its box, hidden under the bushes below the obelisk. It was clearly stolen. Then the dog found a large catfish. It must have been dropped by an osprey – not that I have seen one nesting here. I spend 30 minutes gathering predictable pieces of litter and walk home along the river.

~ The Burrard Neale Monument ~

Day 31

I need to tackle the estuary again. After sliding down the embankment, I cautiously make my way onto the mud at low tide. Broken bottles sit in black ouse. I find a police cone encrusted with barnacles, bladderwrack and even a couple of muscles. It has become a mini-ecosystem.

I extract a number of plastic bottles, tins, a fishing float and one triangular Men at Work notice. At least two rusty road-sign stands lurk in the gunge. I go after another traffic cone but find myself being sucked into the mud and retreat clutching a wheel hub and my bucket. The heavier items are left on display for passing motorists to admire.

A multi-million pound Redrow development has risen up recently on the western shore beyond the sluice gates, offering sort-after views. Did they not think about removing the rubbish that has accumulated over the decades? No wonder the flats were slow to sell. You’d think the value of the real estate would warrant a little bit of a tidy-up. It takes me 30 minutes.

Day 32

‘I’ll ring if I get stuck in the mud. Please come and extract me!’ I tell my husband.

‘Don’t joke about serious issues,’ he calls back, sure that I will come to grief. ‘Are you taking the dog?’

‘I can’t. There’s too much broken glass.’

Some of the pieces of china I find are clearly Victorian, although none are of value.  The shards of glass prove ancient and yet are razor sharp. There is no wave action here, only waders and seabirds searching for food, significant species such as little egrets. How many have been cut by this rubbish over the years?

I slide over seaweed and make my way around the shoreline, filling my purple bucket with litter caught under bushes or embedded in the mud. I end up finding a pristine and very modern bottle of wine. Two men mooring their boat stare as I drag a weathered traffic cone from the black mud and stagger home. If this foreshore was made up of golden sand, it would be a well known beach attracting hordes. How long will it take to recover from being a historic sewer?

I post this photo on Facebook, sharing thoughts with the local community. The men who were disembarking from their dinghy see this shot and apologise for not coming to my aid, which I appreciate. They kindly offer to help haul out anything I can’t manage, using their boat to reach the otherwise inaccessible items. Hopefully we can retrieve the bollard that defeated me earlier in the week. 40 minutes

~How long has this police cone been in the river?~

Day 33

I put out rubbish for the refuse collectors – four large bags of mixed litter that can’t possibly be re-cycled. I’ll spare you the photos. My husband takes the bottles and broken glass with him to the supper-market where he has a long relationship with the re-cycling containers. He insists that I try to rescue the bedspread found in the estuary. I drag it out of the washing machine after two cycles but it still stinks. Noisome is the word. There is no chance it can possibly be of use. I make plans for the pile of vehicle parts I’ve found on verges to be taken to the town dump where useful items are sold cheaply. The only piece of litter added today is a steel cable but all this sorting absorbs 20 minutes of my time.

I log my findings with Keep Britain Tidy, since it is the last day of the Great British Spring Clean. There are no categories for the number of glass bottles, stolen items, road signs or vehicle parts found. I’ll publish the results in my next post.

Total for week: 150 minutes (2.5 hours)

 

 

 

 

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Diary of a lone litter-picker: week 4 of the Great British Spring Clean

~Things I’ve found on Solent shores, including the buckets~

Day 21 –

Our garden has become a retirement home for old buoys.  The school holidays have begun and hordes of small children descend on us and pester them. While dear old Mr Puce tolerates being punched, kicked and swung on, Miss Black, a fender who I found washed up on the shore, has a new role as a garden cushion.

‘Oh buoy, Oh buoy – Give us a wave!’

Mr White, an elderly buoy who had obviously been working on the Solent, was offered a new role on the Beaulieu River but has opted for a swinging job on a climbing frame in South London. Mr Pink, who had a career in the chemical industry before taking up life on the ocean wave, has passed on, along with one old buoy who sadly got cut up and split his sides open.

It is a crisp spring evening. I take a footpath through the New Forest National Park with my dog and return home with a number of plastic drums and 5 litre containers I’d previously pulled out of a remote wetland area. The children are revolted. Time spent collecting this rubbish: 40 minutes.

Day 22 –

I sort the litter I’ve collected since the beginning of the Great British Spring Clean: 20 green glass bottles, 20 brown glass bottles and 20 clear glass bottles plus about 10 assorted glass recepticals. Most were so dirty I’ve had to soak them. My husband takes them to be recycled. This is important to him as he used to manufacture cut glass crystal and knows you can’t make glass without glass. A four year-old boy helps me count 137 squashed tins that once contained alcohol. They fill one recycling bag. I can’t bear the thought of counting the plastic bottles. This takes 20 minutes.

~137 tins which once held alcohol, found along one country lane~

I need to sneak off without the dog knowing. It’s too dangerous for him to collect litter with me beside the main road. I work away for about 15 minutes deciding a lot of people must be drink-driving. Only drivers chuck litter into the verges here. They must have serious disassociation issues to chuck it out while negotiating the sharp bend.

One driver wasn’t concentrating when coming down the hill not so long ago. The car didn’t turn around the bend at all. It carried straight on, splitting a large black and white chevron sign in two and landing upside-down in the river. The lights were still on when I passed by on my usual litter-picking walk. Miraculously, no one was seriously injured. The vehicle had been wrapped in police cordon tape by the time I returned but lay leaking oil into the river for six weeks. I extracted one half of the chevron sign at the start of the Great British Spring Clean. It is going begging if anyone would like it to decorate their bedroom. The council couldn’t possibly use it.

Day 23 –

What I thought might be hay-fever turns out to be full-blown cold. I have no energy to expend sorting the carefully gathered rubbish piled up outside my back door. My husband returns from re-cycling the bottles saying that they don’t separate the coloured glass anymore.

~This section of the Solent foreshore was multi-coloured with mirco-plastics 15 years ago~

We have a Portuguese friend staying who also has a bad cold and wants to collect seawater to clear his sinuses. I take him down to the Solent shore. Here I collect micro-plastics including drinking straws and a balloon and 5kgs of rubbish from a wetland area. The whole exercise takes 90 minutes as the location is quite remote.

Day 24 –

My cold is pulling me down but I find a wheel-hub and spend 20 minutes gathering litter from the roadside going up the hill, amazed at how much old rubbish I didn’t spot the first time. New items infuriate me. Today a Costa coffee mug sits on a ledge overlooking the river like a hidden Easter egg. A banana skin has been carefully folded inside and the cap clipped back on. What does the person who purchased this assume will happen next? It’s madness. Costa give customers a 25p discount if they provide their own mug.

I’m told that nothing can be labelled ‘disposable’ anymore. Things don’t disappear, we simply move them to another place. I maintain that vegetables decompose and chuck the banana skin into the undergrowth but collect the cup with its plastic cap. I know Costa want to recycle this but I can’t walk into all the way into town especially.

Day 25 –

I’m ill in bed nursing my cold but get up in the evening determined to collect another bucketful of rubbish from the main road. I find a discarded ‘Bag for Life’ on the verge and return with quite a number of tins and empty bottles of alcohol.

Are glass bottles being flung out of moving vehicles? I spend a total of 40 minutes collecting and sorting as refuse is collected first thing tomorrow.

Day 26 –

I close my laptop at 6.00pm and spend 40 minutes in search of litter on footpath up to the pub and the main road on the way down. A number of cans have been shredded by a hedge trimmer that breaks glass bottles and makes everything more difficult. I fill a large bucket with cans and a black plastic bag with other rubbish before coming across a discarded road sign. The wheel hub I propped up for motorists to find is still in situ. I wonder how many have been collected by #litterheroes this month?

What do drivers think of me as I grub around at the side of the road? What would they think if I chucked the rubbish back into the road? I get upset when I find newly strewn litter but what can I do? Arrange a line of cans across the lane? String up plastic bottles like Christmas decorations? Would it stop anyone littering?

Day 27 –

I spend the evening walking along the Solent shore, alone with the dog, the sea birds and micro plastics. I photograph my catch before loading the hard stuff. It is clear that some pieces, including a balloon, must have already passed through the digestive tract of an animal, possibly a forest pony.

My aim is to collect bottles and ancient plastic containers lodged in the mud on a footpath running through a wood where I once found Mr-Pink-the-chemical-container in a down-and-out state. I recognise one turquoise bottle from the 1960s. The expedition takes 90 minutes.

Day 28 –

The lady whose stolen handbag I found contacts me to say she can pick it up on 24th April – the last day of the Great British Spring Clean. I still have so much to do.

I take my buckets down to the Solent beach I need to clean. Parking rules have suddenly changed. I’m required to pay £2.50 an hour. Thousands of pounds have obviously been spent on the terminal for the Isle of Wight ferry but this beach next to it, which could be a great asset, has been ignored.

I squeeze my car into a friend’s driveway and take my buckets down to the shore. It is like a rubbish dump. Every time I pull up a section of plastic, sand flies rise. I stuff as much as I can into a bag and gather bottles, plastic straws, fishing net, a yachting cap and other flotsam, and depart with as much as I can carry. The last thing I find is a fairy liquid bottle that must be 30 years old. It’s suddenly all too much. 40 minutes and I have hardly made any impression on the filth. I need to return with friends. As I write this, a neighbour messages me to say she’ll join me. If we work together it’ll be more amusing.

~Which is the oldest plastic bottle?~

What impact has this project had on my life? I have become more dedicated to recycling. Every milk bottle top gets saved for MENCAP. Every tin is crushed and recycled. The amount of domestic rubbish we produce has decreased – as has my waistline. All the walking and bending is keeping me fit. At this rate I might just gain the figure of a Fairy Liquid bottle.

Total for week: 395 minutes (nearly 7 hours)

To see a list of the things I’ve found on a beach clean please click here

 

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Diary of a lone litter-picker: week 3 of the Great British Spring Clean

In an attempt to turn the tide on pollution I am making a concerted effort to record how long I spend collecting litter and how may items are collected in the categories: plastic bottles, glass bottles, general rubbish and drink tins but find myself dragging other items such as road signs out of ditches.

Day 15

I’m am on the phone to the police as I write, reporting another stolen item. A sodden, empty jewellery box looked up at me from a ditch this evening. It was in plain view of the road. I had just collected one bucket of bottles, one of empty cans and one of general rubbish along with a road traffic bollard, the back shelf of an estate car and a sodden carpet. This took 90 minutes of concerted effort. Retrieving rubbish from an overgrown ditch is tricky. Some was hanging from the trees. However, this is the New Forest National Park. It’s important to persevere. One unopened tin of larger was dated 1990. It must have been lying there for thirty years. An odd conical can of UHT milk had the same ring pull. I’ve no idea of the date. It is made of both plastic and tin.

The police tell me that they will never be able to find out who took the jewellery box and suggest I dispose of it. It’s the sixth item of stolen property found on the same lane.

~A 30 year-old lemonade bottle gnawed at by mice~

Day 17

Another hour of my life is spent filling my three buckets with litter. I collect 23 drink cans, 8 glass bottles and 16 plastic bottles including 2 x 2 litre unopened bottles of cider from the local nature reserve. My powers of observation are increasing. I walked along a path which I have already cleared twice and yet spotted tins and bottles, which are decidedly elderly.

I find a full bag of make up in the lay-bye, which looks as if it was chucked out of a stolen handbag. It would be the 7th stolen item. What really worries me is a pair of tights, a girl’s skirt and a in the undergrowth femur nearby. Had someone been murdered? I returned home to Google ‘human femur’ and ‘difference between deer and human femur’ (which is not much).

Day 17

The dead body I feared finding turned out to be a life-size doll. I dragged a pair of huge high-heeled shoes and fancy items of clothing out of a marshy patch nearby. Ironically, the next thing I found was a plastic sack with hundreds of packets labelled: Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research – ‘PLEASE GIVE good quality clothing and paired shoes – your collection day is Thursday.’

There was also a large bag of incontinence pads (unused). Being absorbent these had filled with water and expanded in a grotesque manner as I tried to lift the sack. They  were so heavy it was all I could do to swing it towards my car. I had to use two bags from the council to contain the load. Why were all these things these dumped in a wood?

The dog was desperate for a proper walk so I took a bucket and went up the hill. The only people I came across were George and Kate Heathcote of Warbourne Farm, known for the Animal Planet television series Farm Life. They tell me that have been collecting roadside litter constantly and also came across a large doll in the woods. Creepy.

I walk on, startling a deer. It’s legs are far to fine for the femur, which I decide must be bovine. I return with only 13 cans, 4 glass bottles, 3 plastic bottles and a spare wheel but found much more ‘other rubbish’ than normal including a kite. The whole expedition takes 90 mins with another 10 mins to sort it all out

Day 18

I’m finding quite a few roadwork signs and the sandbags used to prop them up. I stack them by an electricity substation and plan ask the council to collect these after on 24th April when the Great British Spring Clean Officially ends. Other litter-pickers report estate agents’ signs are also a problem. We liaise on Facebook. Some collect huge quantities.

I begin to clear the busy road up the hill behind our house and find an open penknife, along with the usual litter. I spend a total of 90 mins collecting and sorting the rubbish, putting out 5 sacks for the refuse collectors.

Day 19

I look at the littered verges as we drive to a hotel in the New Forest where I am giving an illustrated talk on my next book. While speaking about the art of litter-picking over lunch, the gentleman opposite me says that he found a life-size doll whilst he was working for the Forestry Commission. Three in the same area.

Do people enjoy chucking litter into our woods and rivers? Does it give them a sense of release? Is it that people despise what they throw away? I usually pick up one used cigarette lighter a day. Most litter seems comprised of the wrappings of what is bad for us: cigarette packets, sweets, over-flavoured crisps, sugary drinks, alcohol and fast food. Much of this is unfinished, which makes it even more revolting to collect. I presume it’s natural to disengage from what poisons you as quickly as possible.

It’s been a wet day and I’m too busy to do much but collect 16 pieces of litter as I walk along the river to Book Club. I find a rubber tow-bar cover, which I present to my friend as a hostess gift. She says she is thrilled receive what she describes as a knob guard. I entertain the other members with tales from my litter-picking. Two of them offer to join me. Total for the day about 5 minutes.

Day 20

One of my Twitter friends called Becca noticed how ironic it was that people who consume caffeinated drinks never seem to have the energy to dispose of them. I collect about 7 on my way into town only sorry I can’t recycle them as I drop a mixed bag of rubbish into a municipal litter bin. An old friend joins me for a walk in the evening. I take a bucket as we stroll along the sea wall and collect detritus washed up by the tide. There are no bottles, no tins and we enjoy beautiful sunny weather.  Total for day 95 minutes

Total for week: 430 minutes

For list of weird things I’ve found on beach cleans – please click here

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Diary of a lone litter-picker: week 2 of the Great British Spring Clean

This month I have been re-energised in my endeavour to collect litter by taking part in the Great British Spring Clean under the auspices of Keep Britain Tidy. They encourage their registered #litterheroes to keep a diary:

Day 8: Friday 29 March

I find another unopened can of beer on the pavement in Tooting where I am staying in South London. The general attitude to litter seems almost medieval, accepted as normal and tolerated by residents who rely on road sweepers to clean up rubbish scattered by foxes. My friend did not want me to think of touching it without gloves but she can’t stop the children picking up lost toys. Each time we pass a shopping trolley of garden waste, abandoned in the street, we see it has attracted more litter. How long will it stay there?

Day 9: Saturday 30 March

I’m off to Premier Radio’s Woman to Woman conference in central London. Litter in the streets seems to be an indication of poor diet. You can see what is being recklessly consumed: sugar-laden drinks, sweets, flavoured crisps, fast food, alcohol. Do we have a natural urge to discard what is bad for our bodies?

Cable ties lie the pavement in Westminster. Although not cheap, builders seem to cut and cast these aside. I picked up a handful that could easily be re-used. PVC cable ties were originally manufactured by my father. He would have wept to see how many are wasted or left to pollute the Earth.

Day 10: Sunday 31 March

Back on the south coast, I find an empty beer bottle, coffee cup and two dog poo bags sitting on the flood defence gate over the Lymington River, left as if for passers-by to admire while they take in the view over the nature reserve. What next? Have these items been carefully placed for me to collect? What if they fall into the river? Could the beer bottle ever jam the sluice gates open and cause flooding? The plastic will be washed into the sea. I give in and collect the items, only grateful they don’t have to be fished out of the brambles.

I go out latter for ten minutes, finding a full bottle of beer along with a large number of cans on a footpath leading to the pub. Some of the tins have been minced by a hedge trimmer, which is maddening. We must clear the verges this spring before vegetation grows. I retrieve another expensive roller from a boat trailer and a various car parts that owners might like returned.

Day 11: Monday 1 April 

The police arrive to examine the HP laptop and jewellery box I found chucked in the river last week. A silver bracelet engraved with the name Shirley lies inside. Everything is taken to the police station. The officer recommends putting a photo on Facebook in an attempt to find the rightful owner. My post soon has 92 shares. I only hope it is not too upsetting.

~Do you know anyone called Shirley who is missing this?~

I also post a photo of a strange car part found yesterday and am told it is from a Mercedes. A grateful lady comes to collect the roller from her boat trailer. I continue picking up litter from the lane alongside the Lymington River and spot something familiar. It is the mud-guard that fell off my husband’s car weeks ago. I am thrilled. He says, ‘Oh, I thought it would turn up some time.’

Day 12: Tuesday 2nd April

The council message me to ask if I can tell them where three road signs I dragged out of the ditch can be located. I find one has already disappeared from the verge where I left it. I collect a rusty car radiator and two buckets of rubbish from the lane running alongside the nature reserve. Its raining, the dog won’t join me and am beginning to feel morose when I am struck by the sight of a double rainbow, arching over my buckets left in a gateway. It is as if I am being thanked for all I am doing.

Day 13: Wednesday 3rd April

I resume collecting bottles and cans from the lane wearing rubber gloves and Wellington boots, jumping into the ditch in an effort to extract bottles and cans before they are washed into the sea. What do you conclude when you find a lipstick in a wild, marshy place? I discovered a handbag not far away and kept searching the area, coming across an iPhone and an Acer laptop.

Back at home, I go through the handbag with care, looking for something with the owner’s name, as the police officer taught me. I ring the number on a pile of identical business cards and eventually get through. The owner is travelling through London on a bus. Her bag had been stolen from her car ages ago but she sounded very pleased to hear from me and said she’d come to retrieve it.

Day 14: Thursday 4th April

As requested, I’ve been posting photos of my litter activity on social media, desperately trying to edit attractive photos of garbage for my Ingram feed. I begin to lose followers on Twitter but gain others as support grows. Encouragement helps no end.

People are making a difference but the task seems endless. One volunteer from the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust filled a long-wheel based Land Rover with rubbish from the Lymington causeway last year. Although an ecologically sensitive area it has somehow attracted more rubbish.

Today it was cold and raining hard. The road drains were blocked. I wonder why? I reached down to pick up one piece – just one piece – but if I don’t a dolphin could die.

 

Total for week: About 60 minutes

My Stop – Start campaign

Stop chucking litter

Start picking it up

Stop flushing things down the loo

Start getting organised – get a car bin

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