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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Provide water – and put someone in charge of distributing it up and down the line of workers.
- Take along some kind of cream to treat nettle stings. I didn’t do this, and I wish I had.