Wow. I can’t quite believe that I’ve now done my first 100 days of litter picking as part of my New Year Resolution to pick up 20 pieces of litter every day for a whole year.
Blimey. That’s quite a lot of cigarette butts, pieces of chewing gum, sweet and crisp packets, plastic and glass bottles, cans, straws, lighters, false finger nails, dog pooh bags and medicine blister packs.
I’ve learned a lot in these past 100 days. Some good stuff. Some not so good stuff. Same about other people too. And I’ve also discovered the most amazing community of people who are also equally daft to play this mug’s game.
So what are the key things that I have learned thus far this year?
- Lots of people want to make a change when it comes to the litter issue but don’t quite know where to start. They kind of feel it’s all a bit hopeless because the tide of litter that is flowing over our nation (and lots of other nations too, unfortunately) seems to be never ending. Many people want to reduce the amount of plastic they use, and lots of people are keen to pick up litter, given the opportunity.
- At the same time, lots of companies just don’t give a damn about what happens to their packaging after it has been used. All they care about is selling more product and really aren’t bothered about the fact that their trash is literally trashing the nation.
- I’ve learned that a lot of people don’t seem to realise that cigarette butts and chewing gum are not only litter too, but that they are plastic litter. And worse, they are the two most ubiquitous sources of litter in Britain today. I originally started my challenge by picking up 20 pieces of litter a day, but soon realised that was nothing when you count cigarette butts and chewing gum as part of that figure. So now I pick up a minimum of 20 cigarette butts a day, and then everything else is a bonus.
- I’ve realised that plastic is everywhere. No matter where I’ve been, or where I look, there is plastic rubbish. Deep under the fallen leaves and mud in a little flood-area by a small stream, I’ve found far more plastic bags than I thought possible. In National Trust properties, on clean looking beaches, and in the hedgerows of fields far way from houses or shops – plastic rubbish is everywhere.
- I’ve learned that I can be far grumpier than I had ever imagined. The realisation that so many people do not give a hoot about dropping litter was really quite a surprise to me, and I’ve been grumpy about that since. Not that some people don’t care. I’ve always known that there are some people that don’t care. But I had no idea that so many don’t care. And maybe it’s not that they don’t care: it seems that a lot of people pretty much don’t even realise that dropping litter is a thing. They just walk along, shedding wrappers and bottles and packaging and gum without ever even noticing that this is a ‘thing’. It makes me feel soooo depressed to realise that even after Blue Planet 2, there are so many people who don’t care.
- Litter isn’t something that just young people drop. Before starting this, I had assumed that a lot of the rubbish being dropped was from kids out having a laugh with their friends and just not caring about what they are doing. But since picking up over 10 nicorette tablet packs in the same area, it’s occurred to me that maybe non-youngsters also drop their trash too.
- Some dog walkers out there are utterly insane, selfish and lazy – why bag up dog pooh and then just leave it? There are far more dog walkers out there who are super lovely and kind and sensible and take their dog pooh bags home with them, but seriously. The number of dog pooh bags that get left in the bushes, on benches and hanging from trees means that there are definitely more than just a couple of idiot dog owners near my house.
- Litter picking is a lonely hobby (hobby?) – you can actually feel quite vulnerable out there picking up litter in full view of the world, and it’s funny how people will either ignore you, or comment on what you are doing as they walk by without thinking that I can hear perfectly well. Even though it’s lonely, I’m finding that I really appreciate the chance every day to get out walking and getting fresh air, no matter how busy I am.
- Litter picking is also wonderfully social. In real life, when I’ve had people join me, it really is a fun thing to do with someone – chatting away while grabbing random items from the floor. And the wonderful community spirit that’s growing in our neighbourhood as a result of a couple of group picks that we’ve done, really does give me hope for the future.
- Using a litter grabber is the best thing ever (aside from maybe chocolate or swimming in the sea). I’ve been using the grabber-things that my dad needed when he had his hip replaced, and even though I wasn’t keen on using them to begin with, I’ve found that I can pick up litter much more quickly and I don’t have to worry about skanky stuff.
- I’ve learned that I’m not actually doing this for me as I had originally thought. What’s more; I’ve realised that I’m not even doing it for the people who drop litter. I’m actually doing it for two main reasons: my children (and by that I mean my own physical children, but also all the other children in the world who were born here but never asked to drown in plastic) and I’m doing it for each and every single creature that lives in the sea. I figured this out when I hastily typed this response to someone who said that they would pick up litter but that it’s just encouraging the litter fairies who assume that litter just disappears.
I know it can be really frustrating when an area keeps getting messed up, and I felt the same when I started my challenge this year: why should I keep picking up the same old litter, day in day out. Especially when the same areas get trashed over and over, presumably by the same people. My only explanation is that I’m not doing it as a favour to the lazy twats who can’t put their cigarette butts in a bin, or people who spit their chewing gum on the floor or who leave sweet, crisp and drug wrappers everywhere or who don’t have enough energy after drinking an energy drink to put the can in the bin. I’m doing it to make our area feel like a nice place to live again, and I’m doing it to help reduce the amount of plastic rubbish that is flowing into our streams and rivers and oceans and suffocating the seas. I’m doing it to show my kids, and anyone else that happens to be watching or helping, that the answer to a problem is just getting stuck in, doing a little bit, is worth doing.
Today I walked to Sainsbury and picked up litter in the way and on the way back. I got over 50 cigarette butts, 6 pieces of chewing gum, 5 wet wipes and a shed load of plastic. It might not be worthwhile in terms of discouraging people from littering, but I feel pretty darned good about it, and my arse is perky as anything from all those squats!
Thank you for reading this rather long blog. I appreciate you marking this 100 day celebration with me!
If you feel inspired to join me in my little quest this year, you might want to follow the amazing people who started the #2minutebeachclean movement and if you want ideas for the kinds of bags you could use when you litter pick, read this.
And if you feel like you might want to make litter picking feel a tiny tad less lonely, come and join in on instagram – there is a whole world of litter-picking superheroes on there!
Finally: if you want to read why I believe that litter has a lot to do with nutrition, head over to the blog that I wrote in my other disguise as a nutritional therapist.