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How litter-pickers are taking the rubbish crisis into their own hands


Research suggests that two-thirds of the garbage thrown away in the UK comes from just 12 companies, with Coca-Cola topping the list. In the absence of impactful policies and corporate responsibility, a growing army of garbage collectors is taking action

From solo pickers to community cheerleaders; dog walkers to power walkers; And from fresh air seekers to new conversation seekers, the reasons people pick up trash are as diverse as the trash they hunt.

For some, measuring their casts per ton is similar to an Olympic sport. Others yearn for the satisfaction of before and after photos. Some are angry, many are happy, some are disappointed, some are optimistic. But everyone is passionate about making their corner of the world a little more enjoyable.

“I’m a solo picker, but I can spend hours at my favorite place,” writes Claire, from Northampton, in the Facebook of anti-litter groups in the UK page, which has 8,000 members. “I feel like a guardian of the galaxy: a small part of it, but it is mine to love.”

Lockdown helped create a new wave of garbage collectors. Membership of Keep Britain Tidy’s Facebook #LitterHeroes The group doubled over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, while the organization has also received an unprecedented volume of requests for garbage collection kits.

“There are definitely a lot more people collecting trash now,” says CEO Allison Ogden-Newton. “We’ve all spent a lot more time in our neighborhoods over the last year and a half – seeing the same streets and spaces every day and noticing what’s around us.”

Those who lead community groups – from the Dorset demons to the Marlow wombles – who often lend garbage collectors, gloves and even high-visibility vests to civic neighbors, have described a “reassuring” response in recent months.

And things have been even busier since the lockdown began to ease. The lifting of restrictions on people who socialize outdoors has led to new daily garbage dumps, and also new types: disposable masks, diapers, wipes and tissues, among the most common finds.

Unsurprisingly, the UK Fighting Groups Facebook page draws a bit of rant, but also humor. “Let’s all wish the person who left this a speedy recovery,” writes Phil of Grangemouth in Scotland, after finding a discarded sales receipt for a six-pack of baked beans and diarrhea lozenges.

There is also a strong streak of creativity – people dreaming of ingenious ways to raise awareness about the challenge of littering. On the west coast of Scotland, members of the Sea Savers group from Ullapool are writing with a stamp ‘The sea begins here, please do not litter’ around the drains, to remind people that what is thrown into them ends in the ocean.

Many people are clearing up simply because it feels good.

Sammie, who scavenges the southeast coast, makes “ clean beach plastic ” artwork from her finds and donates 10 percent of the proceeds from sales to Leave No Trace Brighton, a community organization that has as an objective to reduce litter on the city’s beaches. .

They are all admirable things, but is there a difference? Keep Britain Tidy estimates that 2 million pieces of trash are dumped nationwide every day, 23 items per second.

Worse than making no sense, could community action divert focus from the 12 companies that produce 65 per cent of the brand-name rubbish that hits UK shores? as a Surfers Against Sewage study found? Coca-Cola, Walkers and McDonalds top the list of the dirtiest brands.

One study found that 12 companies produce 65 per cent of the brand-name rubbish found on the UK’s shores. Image: Brian Yurasits

David Katz, Founder and CEO of The plastic bench, a Canadian organization that monetizes plastic waste by turning it into a currency to help some of the world’s poorest people, likens the challenge to an overflowing sink: There is no point in scrubbing the floor, he says, until the tap is turned off. Cleaning a beach, for example, will never turn the tide of debris, because the next tide will bring more trash.

But there is evidence that cleanings make a difference. For starters, each piece removed is one less danger to the wildlife that finds it or the people who find it.

More powerful is the long-term educational impact. For starters, there is nothing like filling a garbage bag with garbage to inspire you to reduce the use of a single plastic. When asked why she picks up trash, Liz from Tyne and Wear said: “Show children and youth that there is an alternative and [that] I care. “Many other collectors seem to subscribe to the opinion:” It’s not my trash, but it’s my planet. “

Useless exercise or powerful tool?

A growing number of projects, from Open garbage map database to Planetary patrol Application: They ask people to record data on what they find, in order to address the challenge at the source. If we can understand more about the challenge (for example, what is being thrown away and where), it will be easier to develop specific solutions – from smarter packaging to policy changes and thus help keep companies that produce plastic single use only. , for example, on account.

Pick up trash

But many people are clearing up simply because it feels good. Public Health England has even endorsed garbage collection as a good way to improve mental and physical health.

“It’s obviously good for the environment, but we know it’s also great for us as people,” adds Ogden-Newton of Keep Britain Tidy. She notes that many say getting involved has brought them a sense of community pride and belonging, and new friends.

“The huge global problems can be overwhelming, but cleaning up the trash is very tangible and satisfying,” he reflects. “You can literally step back and see that you have removed so many bags. It reminds people that it is possible to make a difference. “

Illustrations: Spencer Wilson



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