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Litter - the community can fight back...


I make no great claims for my photography. But I do try very hard not to be boring.
Thanks for calling in. Moira
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Litter - the community can fight back...

28 Jan 2017 5:31PM   Views : 601 Unique : 404


Discussion on a recent upload reminded me yet again that if there is one non-photographic subject guaranteed to get people agitated here it is litter. It's a problem that is constantly evolving but never improving. We live in a throw-away culture that is also increasingly selfish and lazy.
But there is something that you can do, and I'm mentioning it here because there are a lot of retired people on the site with time on their hands.
Like several other members here we belong to a volunteer litter-picking group. It genuinely makes a difference, it's good exercise and it can also be a surprisingly sociable activity. So why not join in locally, or get a group started if there isn't already one near you?
We meet up once a week at a particular location, and work for an hour or so (that's as much as elderly vertebrae will take) with a view to leaving the area really immaculate. We have an informal rota of litter hot-spots. When we return to the same place a few weeks later we know that it will be as bad as ever. But we keep the situation under control.
Our town has just two County Council workmen now, responsible for odd jobs, whether clearing blocked drains, cutting grass or mending potholes. There used to be six to eight. Now they pick up litter in the town centre if they have time, which isn't often. In present economic circumstances we cannot expect any improvement. This does not prevent a widespread attitude among many people that 'There's someone paid to pick it up for me'.
If you fancy getting a group started, here's a suggested plan of attack.


First do a reconnaissance of problem areas. Typical hot-spots will be: car parks, lay-bys, bus stops, areas around pubs and fast-food outlets, areas behind shops and businesses, approaches to schools and to transport hubs.
Other problem areas will be fences and hedgerows that act as wind-breaks, and popular dog-walking routes. And for no obvious reason, gaps behind BT junction boxes.
Check out where it is actually safe to work you cannot ask volunteers to work on exposed verges by busy roads. Some places have to be abandoned to their fate.
And you need safe parking, for volunteers and for whoever collects the results.
Next discuss it with your local authority (municipal or county). You will need to arrange with them to collect the bagged rubbish. Liaison with your council is vitally important. You cannot expect volunteers to transport rubbish to a tip, not given some of what we find! I'll come back to that later...
See if you can get the Council to supply heavy duty plastic bags, and agree in principle to fund some basic equipment. If they won't, look for sponsorship from local business, it's precisely the sort of activity that they generally like to be seen supporting. As well as bags, you are going to need: litter pickers (pistol-grip is best, don't buy the cheapest available because the springs won't last), gardening gloves (most people have their own), hi-viz vests; also advisable: goggles for work in hedgerows, and a pair of secateurs. It will cost around 15 to 20 to equip a volunteer adequately.. So if you are hoping for ten volunteers, 200 is a nice round sum to go for.
One of our number also brings a dustpan and brush which is the best way of tackling broken glass. And of course, everyone needs to remember sensible footwear.
Also check whether your local authority offers insurance cover for volunteers, most seem to have something in place.
Then try to get volunteers together to arrange a suitable time for a regular meet. You'll soon find the hidden corners that need attention, and you get a particular insight into human nature...
One particular problem is dog-walkers and their charming little bags. A significant number carefully bag up dog poo, presumably making sure that other people see how virtuous they are being. Then when nobody is looking they hang it on a hedge or secrete it under a bush. There are three particular bushes where I know I can always fill a bin-liner with these little delights. One is just round the corner from a primary school.
This is why you use a litter-pick and gloves, and why you don't ask volunteers to transport rubbish in their own vehicles!
Plastic carrier bags used to be a major problem, and that aspect has improved immeasurably since the 5p charge was introduced. It's one of the rare instances of a social engineering policy actually working. It didn't come a moment too soon, we are now seeing the results for 'biodegradable' plastic carriers and we are not impressed. After a couple of years the plastic becomes opaque, stiff and brittle, and breaks up into tiny fragments. It does not actually rot. It's just like polystyrene (another horror), on a smaller scale.
Drinks containers, cans and bottles whether plastic or glass, are a constant problem.
Meanwhile the big increase has been in take-away coffee beakers. As I said, you get an interesting insight into people's behaviour. We do not have a MacDonalds in town, the nearest outlet is about 15 minutes drive away. We do find a lot of MacDonalds packaging, at a roundabout on the approach to the town. Fifteen minutes is how long it takes a motorist to eat a burger and drink a coffee at the wheel. Slow down for the roundabout, open the window, get rid of the debris. Keeps the car nice and tidy...


We find a lot of larger toys tricycles, toddle-trucks, dolls' prams. Perfectly good items, but the children have grown out of them. I find that depressing, particularly as we have a Youth Charities shop in town that would be glad to take them what sort of message does it send to the kids?
Tucked away in the town centre there are two large raised flower beds. One is behind the high street shops and restaurants, where staff go out for a smoke. The other, just steps away, is where local youngsters congregate to drink and chomp through bags of crisps. Two separate worlds, litter-wise...
There are a number of dens hidden in local woodland, with old sofas and cushions. Really quite cosy. We used to find a lot of evidence of glue-sniffing, much less of late. But we do find hypodermic syringes. Don't touch them, always report them to the police. We also notify local Youth leaders who like to keep up to date on this.
A particular problem used to be the pavement between a local factory and the public transport interchange. The factory supplies its workers with plastic earplugs every day very distinctive, swirly pattern in yellow and pink. We used to find them in hundreds, all along the pavement.
We got the Town Council to have a word with the management, there's now a bin at the factory door, the problem has almost disappeared. People will use a bin so long as they don't have to walk a single step out of their way...
Nothing surprises me now. Not the number of car wheel-trims that we find every week by roadsides, or the number of golf balls, or the tyres, or the empty paint tins, or the full milk bottles and used teabags. Not even the undergarments and single items of footwear.


The supermarket trolley full of rubbish that had been pushed across a muddy field and dumped in a hedgerow, that was curious. Quite a bit of effort was needed to get it there.
The chemical toilet and hospital bedpan that I found on the same morning, just yards apart now there's a story that I would love to sort out. But we know we will always find something even stranger next time.
It's remarkably enjoyable, and sociable. We have a good moan about our fellow humans and catch up with gossip at the same time. The satisfaction is that at the end of a session we can see the difference we have made. It doesn't last long, but it makes the town a better place to live in.

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ddolfelin Avatar
ddolfelin 12 103 3 Wales
22 Feb 2017 9:55AM
Such activity on behalf of the community can be the stuff of MBEs, Moira.
Let me know if you need a reference.
Wonderful public spirited work.

Our local problem is the dustcarts going through the narrow rural lanes with rubbish blowing in the wind behind them.

More power to your elbow. (and less of the 'age' thing).

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