Diary of a Lone Litter Picker – in the time of Corona

Before Lockdown, I was cleaning this section of the Solent shore on a daily basis, mainly collecting plastic pollution that had blown in or been deposited by the tides.

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Being isolated and difficult to reach, and yet near my home, it seemed a good place to continue taking exercise with my rescue dog, using a bucket that can  contain broken glass and handle windy conditions. I have three that I found washed-up, along with a bicycle basket.

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Each bucketful contains between 40 and 260 pieces of plastic. Some items are very small. Barbecue tongs are useful for extracting wrappers from brambles but most sea-rubbish is clean having been floating in the Solent.

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I find quite a few glass bottles, takeaway food containers, PVC fishing rope and always an old cigarette lighter.

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Some items will have been lost overboard.

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Occasionally something makes me laugh.

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I find the task of clearing the bridge across the estuary quite distressing. People have obviously been dropping litter from vehicles, including sani-wipes, plastic gloves and things that had been in their mouths. What do they imagine will happen next?

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There was a lot of drink-driving prior to Covid-19. I’ve noticed less bottles and cans of alcohol chucked out of cars but far more picnic litter. It’s a wonder we are not coping with a more formidable virus.

“What is the worst things you seen dumped in a beauty spot?”

At the beginning of Lockdown I came across this rubbish dumped in a nature reserve where otters bred. There was human faeces everywhere.

“Why do people throw litter?” I’m asked.

It’s no excuse, but think it gives them a sense of release, which is why we are being inundated right now. I have studied the issue in my depth here.

Quite a lot of rubbish blows off building sites. Here I am in my V.E. Day dress, removing builder’s plastic from a New Forest pond along with a war-time can that looked at least 75 years old.

Collector's items - Sophie Neville's litter-picking finds

“What are the most distressing things you find?”

Fly-tipping upsets me. I took my family to help clear half a ton of plastic car parts dipped in a beautiful bluebell wood a mile from our house, last night. It’s been languishing there so long that a member of a UK Litter-picking group has asked me to send him what have become ‘collector’s items’ but there are too many! I dated the haul by a 2004 crisp-packet lodged with the hubcaps.

This was a load of brand new camping gear dumped in the New Forest National Park as if it was biodegradable.

It’s always distressing finding objects that have obviously been stolen, such as handbags, empty jewellry cases, laptops and iPhones. I’ve found eight different lots chucked in the river within half a mile of my home.

Finding nitrous oxide canisters worries me. What is something goes wrong? People are obviously taking it in areas inaccessible to an ambulance.

Sea plastic found by Sophie Neville

This bucket weighed in at 4kg. It can often weigh 6kg.

This is one of the most lethal objects found on a beach frequented by children, dogs and New Forest ponies. No one from the Council is going to find this.

Photo of rubbish - lethal litter - collected by Sophie Neville

Some items seem to have travelled a long way.

“What’s the weirdest thing you’ve found?”

I find long, fluorescent light bulbs washed up in the same place – intact. Here is one I found at the beginning of Lockdown. I’m assured they contain mercury and would be horrific if smashed.

“Do you do art with the rubbish?”

Not using the hub-caps, but during Lockdown I’ve begun to make abstract pictures with sea plastic. You can see the earring and beer bottle caps I found above.

This seascape has gone is proving popular on Facebook:

Seascape - artwork by sophie Neville made from sea-plastic

Those of us collecting sea-plastic along the south coast have found a number of toy soldiers. I incorporated one into this collage:

'The end of the world' a collage made of sea-plastic by Sophie Neville

Being a writer, I usually litter-pick alone so that I can take advantage of good weather and tides while being able to loosen-up after a day typing, but friends sometime join me. It’s fun and gives us plenty to chat about as we view society from the bottom up.

To see more photos and read more about #SolentBeachClean, please click here

Sophie Neville on her 150th beach or river clean of 2019

For a list of the kind of things I find washed up on Solent shores, please click here

Solent Beach Clean

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.

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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~