Connecting by Collecting (litter!)

Having recently moved home, I am keen to engage with the local community, especially in respect of caring for the environment. It’s a bit tricky during lockdown, but I have found a way in by joining the local litter-picking group, Clear Our Patch. For now, we can’t pick together but I have been given a picker and a hoop and I spend at least an hour a  day clearing the shoreline nearby at low tide and picking across the local parks and connecting roads.

It feels good to be making the locality cleaner and safer, and all the while being outside exploring, exercising and meeting people – albeit at a distance. Many stop to thank me, thereby opening an opportunity for conversation.  If they are interested, I will tell them how they too can get involved, but they all have an opinion on rubbish, and I’ve only had one person tell me I was wasting my time as he dashed past.

So, here’s a list of what I picked today: a lone wellington boot, glove, bobble hat, pair of rugby shorts, bucket, watering can, bits of boat, golf ball (there is no course nearby) and the usual assortment of tins, bottles, crisp and sweet wrappers and bits of plastic.  I keep a look out for treasure, but am more likely to find nasties like masks, needles, pill packets, used condoms, nappies and dog poo bags!  Still, whatever it is, every piece of litter tells me a story and the process itself can be relaxing if done mindfully. I have a new friend, met through XR, who tells me the calmness of the picking action around her ‘patch’ keeps her sane. We both look forward to being able to work as a group but, until that day, we continue to get satisfaction out of picking solo.

It is also encouraging to know that Keep Britain Tidy’s research indicates that people tend to litter more when there is litter already there, that the presence of litter almost gives people permission to drop more litter. So, the logical answer to this is to make sure that we keep our neighbourhood clean – and it appears to be working! After a couple of months picking, I can see a real difference, especially in the ‘nasty corners’ that had filled with rubbish over time. Research also shows that if someone sees litter-picking in action, it encourages them to do the same, either independently or as a group.

Of course, this is not the answer to our climate and ecological crisis, but it is an essential piece in the jigsaw. As Edmund Burke* said, Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.”

But I see it’s low tide now and I must be off – again….

*Statesman and writer, 1729-1797.