Diary of a lone litter-picker: cleaning the riverbank and Solent shores

Sophie Neville collecting plastic from the Atlantic Ocean
Sophie Neville on the 150th beach/river clean of 2019

Wednesday 1st January 2020

“Hello Sophie,” a passing driver called out. “Are you still collecting plastic?”

“My first beach clean of the year!”

I manged 150 beach or riverside litter collections last year. My aim is to make it 200 for 2020. As someone wrote to ask why I stopped my last‘Diary of a lone litter-picker’ back in April, I thought I’d start it up again. It may not be that consistent but I am fuelled by rage. The first thing I picked up toady was a deflated helium balloon found on the road to the Solent shore. Isn’t helium a finite resource? Don’t we need it for medical procedures?

Solent beach clean 1 Jan 2020

I came across two ‘disposable’ barbecues lying abandoned on the beach.

“Do you think someone will return for these?” I asked the only other person about on New Year’s Day.

“Doubt it.”

I added the aluminium trays to the purple bucket I use to collect litter. Only one drinks can graced it’s depths today but stopped repeatedly to pick up cotton bud stalks along with small pieces of PVC fishing twine and red, white or blue micro- plastics washed up by winter tides.

A runner ran past. Will all this bending keep me fit, I wonder. There was a little polystyrene and four boxes of fireworks left beside the municipal bin.

It was a mild but misty morning. I walked along with my dog listening to cries of seabirds. How many of them have plastic in their gullets?

Solent Beach clean barbeque 1 Jan 2020

On returning home, I looked up the  Marine Conservation Society and see from their 2019 report that they have a number of different classifications for items such as ‘Sewage related debris’. They need more data to campaign and change Government policies. I decide to join.

Thursday 2nd January

It was windy with rain threatening, so I decided to take my dog down a lane running alongside the river marking the boundary of the Lymington Reedbeds Nature Reserve in the New forest National Park. This is just above the high tide level and prone to flooding. I cleaned the area two months ago. In about 500 yards I collected:

Rubbish 2020

3 x glass booze bottles, 3 x booze cans, 3 x drink cans, 7 x plastic drinks bottles, 5 x cigarette packets and 30 x crisp/sweet wrappers. This weighed 3kgs. Apart from one sandwich the contents of the packaging could not be described as health-giving.

I had to leave a discarded boiler, a rusting wheelbarrow, a length of soggy carpet and a number of bottles lying out of my reach. This fly-tipping has languished in the ditches here for sometime but I need to commander help and a suitable vehicle.

Friday 3rd January

A lovely sunny day when I cleared litter from the rest of the lane running along the river. What do people expect will happen to the cans and plastic flung into the reserve? One tin was dated 2011. Four of the wrappers had been neatly knotted before being chucked in the ditch. From the evidence collected, I strongly suspect their owner to be drink-driving on his or her way to work every day.

Rubbish 4 2020

Sadly, I will need to return with a long poled grabber for plastic bottles chucked deep into the brambles. I need a vehicle to collect a large car part, a plastic tub and a number of ‘Bags for Life’ stuffed with litter lying abandoned near the footpath to the pub. It could be worse. I found nine different items of stolen property along this lane last year – iPhones, lap tops, two empty jewellery boxes and a handbag in which a mouse had made its nest.

Rubbish 3 2002

It was my friend’s Birthday, so took her a card, walking along the estuary with a bucket to collect the inevitable litter. What should I do with parts that have obviously fallen off cars? I hung one up in case its grateful owner comes along along. I also hung a soggy sweatshirt from the railing, although I doubt if it will be claimed.

Rubbish river 2020

I was down by the water, fishing out plastic bottles when a car passed belching clouds of choking white smoke. After extracting an old carry-mat from the reeds I found two puzzled men looking under the bonnet of their car. Their glamorous passenger stood shivering by the estuary. I pointed them in the direction of the local garage but feel I should have left the mat in case they needed it.

Rubbish river 1 2020

Saturday 4th January

In an effort to record data, I sort yesterday’s litter into recyling bags full of tins and plastic bottles. Glass bottles go in an outside sink for washing, wrappers into my domestic rubbish bags. They should go into Council litter bins or litter bags.

Rubbish solent 2020

I returned to the Solent and began collecting plastic deposited by winter tides. When I first moved to this area fifteen years ago, the foreshore was multi-coloured with debris. The coast now looks clean at first glace but I picked up about 200 tiny pieces of fishing twine and micro-plastics in a few hundred yards. There were quite a few spent shot-gun cartridges left by wild-flowlers. I found a baby’s dummy and a used cigarette lighter. There is often one. New Forest ponies roam here and yet I have retrieved buckets of broken glass in the past and find a jagged bottle base that could easily lame a horse. It has obviously been there for years.

Rubbish glass with dog

Sunday 5th January

A stereo speaker was washed up on the shore this afternoon. I wouldn’t want to hit one at sea. I spied a Corona bottle, the bobbly ‘every bubble’s passed its FIZZical!’ type that we yearned for as children in the 1960s. How old would it be? 50 years-old? Could I still redeem the deposit? Hopefully soon.

Rubbish micro plastics

Monday 6th January

I walked back from town, unable to pass littler lying the causeway over the Lymington River. I had no bucket with me but where there is rubbish there is usually something you can use as a container. I found a broken umbrella, filling its folds with plastic cup lids, bottle tops, and assorted trash including a Pepsi Cola tin that would have otherwise rolled into the tidal river.

Rubbish umbrella 2020

Tuesday 7th January

I should have rushed out early when we had two minutes of sunshine but I was distracted and the rain set in. Instead, I read through litter-picking posts on Facebook, absorbing information on bottle return schemes and the call for an end to single use plastics. I reckon we need to support anyone who is doing anything before the world is swamped in rubbish and the food chain poisoned. Do let me know what you are doing in the comments box below.

For a list of things found on Solent Beachcleans last year, please click here

Lymington estuary

 

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

Daily Mail Online

Sophie Neville on a beach clean – photo copyright Daily Mail

Why litter? It is illegal. Why is rubbish chucked out of vehicles passing through an area like the Lake District, where jobs and businesses depend on the beauty of the surroundings?

Is littering an instinctive reaction? Early man must have dropped what he didn’t need without a second thought. Hunter-gatherers are active agents of seed dispersal, spitting out seeds and chucking vegetable matter away as they walk about. Do we, as humans, improve our chances of survival by discarding unwanted items that weigh us down?

My peers counter this. In answer to my question, they say:

  • ‘I care for the environment. It angers me when people don’t do the same!’
  • ‘Pure laziness, they think, ‘Oh well, the local authorities employ someone to clear up behind me and throw rubbish out of vehicles as they drive along while on their mobiles.’
  • ‘Smokers mindlessly drop the cellophane, then the butt, then the packet…’
  • ‘Selfishness and laziness, with no love for nature.’
  • They feel entitled.
  • ‘No respect for the environment, other people or themselves.’
  • ‘Smokers are by far away the worst. Cigarette butts are litter.’
  • ‘Bitterness. They feel let down by society and have given up caring.’
Rubbish - cigarette butts
  • ‘Combo of laziness and the belief that somebody else will be around to pick up after them. My father once threw a candy wrapper on the ground on my college campus. I picked it up and stuck it in my pocket for later disposal. He saw me and asked, “Did you pick that up?!” I said, “Yes.” And I never saw him throw trash on the ground again.’
  • ‘Mindless behaviour. Education is needed: education, education.’
  • Littering – or taking responsibility for rubbish – is a learned activity.
  • Keep Britain Tidy’s litter ambassador Jim Honeychuck quotes an academic paper: ‘There’s a kind of scale. On the one end you get mindless littering by those with little or no mind like junkies, drunks, and toddlers. At the other end you see deliberate, bloody-minded littering, as in holding litter until there is a clean area to foul. That’s a sign of hatred for the community, and perhaps for oneself. (“This is how I see my life, a mess…”) The behaviour at those two ends of the scale can’t be influenced much. In between are those who have always used the floor as a bin, those who would use a bin if there were one, those who use “virtual” litter bins, like planters, walls, the top of shrubbery… That is where improvement can occur.’
  • ‘Some people need a lead; the more good examples set, the better it will be.’
  • Producers could help by using bio-degradable wrapping.

Now that plastic pollution has become a worldwide problem, endangering wildlife and threatening marine fish stocks, we need to guard against litter and pick it up. Every year the RSPCA is called out to rescue thousands of animals caught in rubbish. One cigarette stub will pollute seven litres of water. While collecting litter costs millions of pounds a year, it costs us nothing to bend down and collect a few items a day.

Could you collect litter or go on a beach clean? It can be fun! You get to keep fit, walk the dog and make a huge difference. The finds often prove interesting. I have quite a collection of tennis balls and come across lost or stolen items that have been returned to grateful owners. Keep Britain Tidy have advice on safety and useful kit here: www.keepbritaintidy.org

 

Rubbish - litter heroes ambassadors logo (2)