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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)

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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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