2,500,000 pieces of litter are dropped in the UK every day. It amounts to 912,500,000 pieces a year. This costs nearly £1 billion to clear up. As we all know, much lies languishing in our lanes and beaches. We need to collect it ourselves.
Keep Britain Tidy ask volunteers to divide rubbish collected into three categories: ‘plastic’, ‘cans’ and ‘general waste’. I decide to add ‘glass’, wondering how many bottles I will find between 22nd March to 23rd April, the period ear-marked for the Great British Spring Clean.
The diary of a litter picker:
Day 1: Friday 22 March
I register on-line with Keep Britain Tidy and spend 40 minutes cleaning a footpath leading through a smart housing estate on the way back from hospital. I’m appalled by the stinky litter and glad to be wearing rubber gloves. I’ve never found the need for a grabber or gloves when cleaning beaches. Now it is essential. Numerous plastic bags containing dog poo hang off bushes, more lie under shrubs. I notice packets, wrappers, cans and bottles everywhere, amazed at the amount of rubbish lying in private gardens.
After work, I spend 60 minutes collecting roadside litter from a lane running through the New Forest National Park, taking a pink bucket I once found washed up on the shore as a receptacle for general rubbish. I use a purple one for glass bottles and an orange bucket that soon contains 27 empty alcohol cans. Are motorists drinking whilst driving? I find two unopened cans of Stella, along with a new tube of muscle-relaxant cream, a bike-lock cable and an old milk bottle that had grown into the mossy stream bank. I chatted to BBC Radio Solent, live on air, explaining that I would never have guessed these items were lying by the roadside. They were hidden in the undergrowth, posing a danger to wildlife.
Day 2: Saturday 23 March
I spend 45 minutes collecting an empty 25 litre tub of bleach, a 5 litre tub of French Elf Diesel, a number of bottles and other plastic pollution from a footpath near the Solent shore, taking all I can carry. I use my large purple bucket, which can take broken glass and doesn’t flap about in the wind.
The bucket is easy to lay down while I dig around in the bushes with barbecue tongs. I wonder how old all this stuff is. How long has it been accumulating in the woods? On the way home I stop to pick up an old coat from the verge. It’s been there ages.
Day 3: Sunday 25 March
I spend about 20 minutes collecting fishing net, bottles, and elderly plastic including flip-flops and a neon pink buoy washed up on a small beach, whilst with a journalist and photographer from the Daily Mail. They are staggered by the age of the packets I am collecting. We find a crisp packet that has been sunbathing on the beach for at least eight years.
I show the journalist and photographer rubbish left by a homeless person who was obviously camping in our local nature reserve. How much of this is a reflection of addiction, poor mental health and homelessness in our society?
I take the photographer a short way along the river where I have cleaned the verges repeatedly but feel more needs to be done. We find a can of diesel and a metal wheelbarrow clogging the ditch which needs to be clear to avert flooding.
Day 4: Monday 26 March
It takes 80 minutes to collect rubbish from the Solent foreshore. I take an old friend who is amazed to see how much we find on a section of coast that appears clean at first glance. I effectively give her a demo on how scratchy and time-consuming it can be to extract litter from brambles and blackthorn bushes. With her help, I retrieve 3 glass bottles, 9 plastic bottles, one beer tin, a heavy plastic container, cotton bud stalks, Durex packet, wrappers, polystyrene, gaffer tape, a broken For Sale sign, a domestic scourer, a section of astro turf, fishing rope and micro plastics. It’s a bright sunny day and we enjoy ourselves hugely, encountering wild ponies and sea birds.
Day 5: Tuesday 27 March
Someone commenting on Facebook said: ‘You’re very lucky to have the free time on your hands.’ I am grateful I can get out and about but it’s not as if I don’t work all day. I multi-task. I normally collect rubbish as I walk the dog or go into town. Anyone can collect litter as they walk to work, or school. If we each picked up three pieces a day it would make a huge difference and surely benefit our quality of life.
Today, 20 minutes are spent collecting litter and 30 minutes reporting what I found to the Police. Whilst picking up cans and cartons from the verge in the lane that runs along the river, I spot a leather hold-all behind an electricity substation. I find it open with a large jewellery box inside. Socks – one sign of a break in – are lying near the soaking wet bag.
I ring the Police who ask me to take it home. I’m longing to return to the items to their owner. Some of the sentimental things inside will be retrievable. I think I’d better go down to see if there is anything more and discover a silver-topped HP laptop in the undergrowth. I inevitably collected more litter: total for the day 139 items plus an enormous car bumper. Since the Daily Mail have asked if they can photograph all I find, this is lugged home too. My garden is looking like a scrapyard.
Day 6: Wednesday 27 March
I have a hectic schedule today but pick up a few items as I walk to the railway station. It’s difficult finding somewhere to wash my hands. One person in our town must chuck litter out of their vehicle every day. They knot it neatly in exactly the same way before tossing it into the hedge.
Day 7: Thursday 28 March
I walk along the South Bank in London where rubbish bins are placed every 50 yards. What is litter doing to national morale? Who wants to live in streets strewn with waste? What impact does it have on tourism and jobs? And how can we solve the problem? Insisting on car bins would help.
Total for week one: 325 minutes