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Litter picking part deux

33 bags of litter

I recently posted about a litter pick on one of the roads leading to our village. The response to that was good enough for us to take another run at it. Since the second event differed fairly significantly from the first, I thought I’d write about it, in case it should prove useful to anyone considering organising a local litter pick themselves.

Last time, the local contractor provided us with a box of grabbers, gloves enough for everyone, litter bags and hi vis waistcoats. I assumed that this would be the case for round two as well. It wasn’t.

When we arrived to collect the kit, nothing had been set aside for us. In spite of an exchange of emails confirming everything, no record had been made anywhere that we were coming. Fortunately, because we were a small group, they were able to rustle up enough grabbers for us, and we were given more than enough bags. But that was it. No gloves and no hi vis. The gloves weren’t the end of the world: most people have gardening gloves. But the lack of hi vis was a distinct worry. The road we were working has no pavements. In fact, on one side of the road, there isn’t really even a verge to speak of. Since there is also a blind bend, there was no question of sending people out there without making them as visible as possible to oncoming traffic.

I posted a few frantic messages in various social media spaces and was able to beg and borrow enough hi vis waistcoats to go round.

In March, the spring foliage was only just starting to come in, and the litter was much more visible and accessible. This time around, the foliage was much denser, making it more difficult both to see and to retrieve the litter. You would think that that would mean we collected less, wouldn’t you? Not so.

Last time, we had a team of about six people, and we collected 15 refuse bags of litter in two hours, over a distance of less than half a mile. This time, we had a team of 10, and we collected 33 bags of litter in two hours within the same sort of distance.

We found fewer unusual items on this outing, but the prize probably goes to the heavy tractor tyre, filled with sludge, which had to be dragged up out of a deep ditch. There was also a pile of about 8 black bin bags filled with builders’ rubble – dumped about 100m further along in the same ditch – which we were unable to retrieve. We’ve reported both the tyre and the builders’ rubble to the local contractor, and we hope that they will be collected soon.

Last time, the day was cool and overcast. This time, the sky was blue, the sun was shining and the mercury was cheerfully high. So hats, sun screen and a water supply were definitely needed.

The most common items retrieved were plastic bottles, drink cans, food wrappers and glass bottles.

Lessons learned, hints and tips

  1. Place your booking for the litter picking kit with your local provider. Find out if there’s a formal process you can go through to make sure that you don’t fall between the cracks.
  2. Order enough kit for everyone. Even those who tell you they have their own grabbers. They probably have one of those doohickeys designed for picking up things about the house. They really aren’t strong enough to drag a recalcitrant, half-buried soda can from the undergrowth.
  3. Make sure you know what you’re getting from the contractor. If gloves and hi vis gear aren’t included, ask around: many people have their own and may be willing to lend theirs to you. Don’t shrug off the hi vis gear. It’s absolutely vital that your team is as visible as possible – especially on country lanes with no pavements.
  4. If you’re working country lanes, it’s better to work during the months when the foliage is sparse. The litter is more visible and easier to retrieve. Also, you’re less likely to disturb the home of a small animal which might have young. In the warmer months, when the plant growth is more dense, it’s perhaps better to stick to working residential roads and public spaces.
  5. It’s best if your team works in pairs or small groups, especially if you’re working country lanes. Two people are more visible to passing traffic than one. And if one person gets hurt or stuck, it’s good to have someone on hand to help out. Also, if you find larger items (like tractor tyres or TV sets), it might take more than one person to retrieve it.
  6. Have your team tie their filled bags off and leave them by the side of the road, then collect them all up at the end. If people have to drag filled bags to a central point as they fill them, it means they have less time to actually pick up the litter. It’s also more exhausting. It follows from this that the litter pickers should carry enough spare bags with them that they don’t need to come back for more each time they fill one.
  7. Advise people to wear hats, sunglasses or protective eyewear, and sunscreen. Of course, if they choose not to, that’s their prerogative. But it doesn’t hurt to take along some sun screen for people to use, just in case. When it comes to hi vis, though, I would put my foot down if you’re working country lanes: if you’re not prepared to wear it, I’m not prepared to let you take part.
  8. Provide water – and put someone in charge of distributing it up and down the line of workers.
  9. Take along some kind of cream to treat nettle stings. I didn’t do this, and I wish I had.
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Great British Spring Clean

You’ve heard me complain about it before: over the course of the last few years, the roadside litter situation in Northamptonshire (and beyond) has significantly worsened. The plant growth along the A45 in recent months has been festooned with so much plastic that it takes my breath away. It’s particularly noticeable during the winter months, when there is no foliage to conceal it. Fly tipping is also on the increase, and in addition to the sort of litter that is thrown from the windows of passing cars, our roadsides have become dumping grounds for electrical appliances, sofas, tyres and all manner of other detritus of human existence. The ridiculous part of this is that I live within an easy drive of four drive-in recycling centres, all of which are closed two days a week, but those closures are staggered, so that there is always at least one of them open on any given day. This is one of my hot button topics.

Waiting for someone to do something, and whinging because no-one was doing anything didn’t seem to be working as an approach. So I decided that – being someone myself, as luck would have it – I would do something about it.

I live in the sweetest little village and, while the village itself is relatively clean and attractive, the roads leading to it are not. The subject of the state of the roads surrounding the village comes up fairly regularly on the community FB page. I was a little nervous, because we’re comparatively new to the village, and sometimes people can be resentful when Johnny-come-lately types start sticking their oar in. But the initial reaction was positive, so I decided to go ahead.

I contacted the local council, and learned about the nationwide Great British Spring Clean. I don’t know where the initiative was publicised, but I hadn’t known anything about it until that point. I had to get a bit of a wiggle on to schedule our local village litter pick within the time scale, but we managed it. Norse, which manages our local refuse and recycling, was very supportive and helpful. They provided me with gloves, bags, grabbers and hi-viz vests for all the volunteers. They also supplied guidelines and suggestions.

On Saturday morning, armed with grabbers, sporting our natty hi-viz vests and wearing protective gloves, we headed off to tackle one of the roads leading to and from our village. The group size vacillated between five and six people as some left and others joined, depending on their availability. As we worked, several passersby thanked us for our efforts, and asked to be included next time. The subsequent reaction on social media spaces has been positive enough to warrant a repeat.

Fly tipping

Some of the items we collected had clearly been there for some years, if the prices printed on the beer cans were anything to go by. Do you remember when beer cost 65p a can? Many cans and bottles so hidden by the plant growth, that we only became aware of them when we stepped on them and heard the tell-tale sound of plastic or metal crunching underfoot. The thing I was most concerned about was plastic wrappers and packaging – the sort of stuff that can throttle an animal. There was plenty of that.

We allocated two hours to the task, during which time we collected 15 bags of litter. We also encountered a pile of garbage that had clearly been fly tipped, and which included many items too large to fit into our bags. This pile we moved to the roadside where it could be seen and collected by the team due to pick up the bags.

Among the more unusual items we found were:

  • a pair of handcuffs, in their pouch – consensus was that they were the real deal, rather than the kinky bedroom games sort, what do you think? See picture.

    Handcuffs – real or kinky?
  • a washing up bowl – perfectly intact
  • Best Dad in the World coffee mug – also perfectly intact. Do you think Dad was demoted?
No longer the best Dad?
  • three chisels (not all in the same place)
  • a toaster
  • a television set (excuse the blurry photo)
TV set

We finished up at 12:30 and adjourned to the local WMC for a pint together. The mood was very positive, and people were keen to do it again.

I highly recommend it. If you’re hesitating for some reason – perhaps (like me) you think that someone else would be a better candidate – take a deep breath and make the call to your local council.

And yes, I get it – you pay your taxes and the local authorities are supposed to use that money to do this stuff. And perhaps the reasons it hasn’t been done are valid, and perhaps they aren’t. The fact remains that until something is done about it, you have to live with the litter. Waiting for ‘someone’ to do ‘something’ doesn’t seem to be a viable approach. And, if nothing else, this is a great way to connect with the local community.

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Fly tipping in reverse… or why the Upsycho needs a van

Since moving into full time Upcycler mode, I have developed a distinct tic. Every time we drive past a skip, I practically give myself whiplash, trying to see if there’s anything useful being chucked out. There often is, but sadly, I can’t usually fit it into my car. I drive a great big monster of a Volvo S80, but its boot (trunk) is smaller than most and its back seat doesn’t go flat. Both for the same reason: there is a built-in fridge in my car where the middle back seat should be. Go figure.

A while back, I was taking Jess for a walk, when I spotted a broken pine TV stand on top of the bins (trash cans) of a house not far from mine. I helped myself to it, popping a note through the letter box, in case they hadn’t meant to chuck it out. It became two dog beds.

Two dog beds

In the summer, I took my Mom birding at a local sanctuary, and we spotted a pile of trash dumped by the side of the access road. It included two plastic crates that I was sure I could use, but my Mom was so horrified at the mere suggestion, that I didn’t retrieve them. I’m so sorry I didn’t, because they would have made great dog beds and plastic is a terrible product to send to landfill because it doesn’t biodegrade.

Last month, for several days in a row, I saw a very nice armchair dumped by the side of the road on my way to work. Sadly, I just knew it wouldn’t fit in the car. A real pity, because it was crying out for an Upsycho makeover. Eventually, the council must have removed it because it (and the rest of the junk dumped with it by a fly-tipper) disappeared.

Two weeks ago, I spotted a tea trolley, dumped on the exit ramp from the local Sainsbury. It was a blind bend with no safe place to stop, so I promised myself that I would go there on foot next time I visited the store, and retrieve it. Someone beat me to it. I hope it was someone who was able to do something useful with it.

Just a few days ago, I spotted a metal item sticking out of the undergrowth beside the A509. It was during rush hour traffic, so I had a full second or two to take in some sort of square section frame and circles. I went back yesterday to investigate.

Half buried in the undergrowth

I dragged it out of the undergrowth and across the road to my car. Such a simple sentence to type. Not such a simple thing to do. The road had been deserted when I crossed it empty handed. But now that I was trying to make it back across the road, carrying two unwieldy metal structures, everybody seemed to want to travel to or from Isham! Finally getting across the road to a clear patch, I laid them down to see what they were.

My hard-won treasures

I hadn’t anticipated that right-angled assembly and I had no tools with me to take them apart. Getting them into the car was no mean feat.

Getting them into the car was no mean feat
My Volvo S80 was not designed to do duty as a workhorse

Getting them to my workshop was the easy bit. Once there, I stood them upright and inspected them. I was quite surprised at how tall they are. Over two metres. Perhaps 220cm. One section is bent (top left of the picture below), and there is some rust to remove. Other than that, the frames are in pretty good nick. Obviously that fabric will have to go, but I have plenty in the stash to replace it with.

Over 2m tall!

What I don’t understand is why someone dumped them where they did. It can be a dangerous stretch of road. Plus, they could just as easily have taken them to our recycling plant, which has a special section for metal waste. People are weird.

Watch this space to see what becomes of my fly-tip-retrieval.