Monday, 25 November 2013

A litter picker's tale

One of  my big hates is litter. Some years ago I joined a local environment group and have volunteered to pick up the litter in three streets. Every time I go out I think about how I am feeling and wish I could record it for a blog but it is not easy to capture the mood and that bit of sweet wrapper at the same time.

I was interested to read a blog which recorded people's feelings on picking up litter and I can relate to all of them. But I find it is much more complex than that.

Let me tell you about my patch - it is three streets of  terraced housing that includes a Chinese Takeaway, a paper shop and a circular seated area and small "flower" bed. Pictured is a typical Saturday night/Sunday morning scene.

And what I find so difficult is that  every piece of litter that I see dropped has behind it a person with so little interest in the world around them and so little insight into the effect of their actions that when I look at it it seems to throb with indignation. And then there is the wry knowledge that the tomato sauce sachet won't be alone - it will be followed by its mates - the cup, its lid and the straw, and then the napkin, the foam box and some of the uneatable contents - we have other takeaways within walking distance and one major offender a short drive away. Plastic spoons are the worst - when they have been walked on repeatedly and splintered into tiny intrusive shards.

It is interesting to observe the psychology of all this on others when I am out litter picking. I am always pleased when people speak to me - especially as they have to make an effort to engage me as I am usually focusing on getting that picker to clasp a cigarette end [don't get me started] or something that needs head down and concentration. Apart from the cheery quip "Doing community service then?" I have noticed though that less people want to have eye contact with me than if I was just walking along. Do people just see a little eccentric old lady and nothing else? Is it a collective guilt? A few do speak admittedly but those with children most don't use the opportunity to tell them - and they are clearly interested - why someone is picking up litter in their street and there is a distinct scurrying. I find it hard to be assertive because it feels accusative. One lovely resident brought out tea and scones though for a group effort around this bench and its flower bed and that was a great feeling.

I get a sense of satisfaction out of recycling. I always collect recyclables separately while I litter  pick and make sure that those drink cans [funny how you get a sixth sense about them being full still] and glass bottles and plastics get to my recycling bin. That alone makes me feel that it is all worthwhile and apart from bad days like the takeaway above the litter is - I think - reduced. In the mean time we work on other strategies to stop it being dropped in the first place.


  1. The rest of us do appreciate your trying to keep the world cleaner.

    I think most adults don't take the time to educate their kids on keeping the environment clean. If you make the trash (via eating or buying something), it's your responsibility. Too many entitled people expect 'someone else' to do that. Observe any 'food fair'.

    1. Thanks so much for commenting! I agree about educating kids issue but it is such a good opportunity when it is right there front of them. That someone else - in our case - gets around once in a blue moon of course and as you say it is our responsibility anyway.

  2. There is very little litter in rural France and even the towns are mainly litter-free. We were amazed recently to see a group of teenagers outside a sandwich takeaway shop, all eating and drinking. When they moved away, there wasn't a scrap of litter left on the pavement!

    Although there is no problem with roadside litter in the countryside, many fields have a corner full of rusty machinery, old cars, broken tools etc - they just never get moved!