How you can start litter picking

By planetm | December 20, 2021

Don’t let litter get you down! Becky Skuse has some smart ways for fighting back against the rise of rubbish caused by Covid-19

litter picking

The pandemic has exacerbated many of society’s problems, not least the issue of abandoned rubbish. As well as the usual litter suspects (bottles, cans and takeaway packaging), now there are also masks, gloves, wipes, tissues and empty hand sanitiser bottles to contend with. We’ve all seen footage of beaches and parks looking like rubbish dumps, wildlife getting tangled up in discarded PPE and alarming levels of litter polluting the sea. It’s hard not to feel angry and upset at how selfish and careless some people can be.

But don’t despair, we’re here to help you find ways to turn that frustration into positive action. One way to tackle the increase in litter is to reduce your own consumption. Try to avoid single-use wipes and disposable masks – opt instead for reusable washable face coverings and use pieces of kitchen towel spritzed with disinfectant from a refillable spray bottle. Spread the word to friends and family and encourage them to do the same.

Fight back

The best way to fight back against litter is to collect it yourself – see our guide opposite on how to do this safely during the pandemic. To start with, you might think of it as a chore, but once you try it you’ll find that litter-picking can be really rewarding.

Collecting rubbish by yourself can be wonderfully meditative, whilst litter picking with a loved one can help to forge new bonds over shared experiences. The variety of litter you can find is mind-boggling – yes, there’s the occasional truly disgusting item, but this is usually balanced by finding a fascinating lost treasure. You can even turn it into a game where the person who collects the least buys the coffees afterwards!

Some communities already have a litter-picking scheme that you may be able to join, which is great for making new friends – many are even on Facebook so have a look there. Litter picking with your children is a great way to teach them about the negative impact of litter and instil good lifelong habits. You could even organise a small group event (depending on Covid rules at the time) as a worthwhile way to spend time with friends.

Litter picking is a great outdoor activity that might be the motivation you need to get outside – if you choose a local park or beach then you’ll maximise the nature therapy element. You’ll also find it’s great exercise that doesn’t even feel like exercise! And at the end of the day, it’s heartwarming to know that you’re making a difference to your local area, to local wildlife and to the planet in general.

Forgiving litter

Try to avoid feeling bitter about litter. While you’re out on a litter pick, aim to forgive people for their rubbish and focus on your compassionate act. Remember, there are near-infinite reasons why litter occurs. From accidental litter dropped out of a pocket to litter that’s fallen out of a full-up bin. Sometimes it’s caused by children and teenagers, and often there’s a group dynamic at play – if one group leaves litter then it’s more likely that other groups will too. These things are all natural human behaviour – that’s not an excuse, it’s simply a way to understand. We are all human. So allow yourself to forgive and focus on what you can do – set a good example by responsibly disposing of your group’s rubbish and litter picking when you can.

Safety tips for litter picking

  • Don’t litter pick if you’re self-isolating or displaying coronavirus symptoms.
  • Always use your own gloves and ideally your own litter picker tool (these cost around £5-10) which need to be cleaned after each session.
  • Use a strong or double-bagged bin bag and don’t overfill it.
  • Make a plan for the bag once it’s full. Ideally, pop it into your wheelie bin at home. Some local authorities will collect it if you have a large number.
  • Take an extra bag for recyclable items and sort the rubbish from the recycling.
  • Be extra careful when collecting PPE like masks and gloves – never touch them with your hands.
  • Never pick up syringes – report them to your local authority.
  • Wash your hands regularly before, after and during collecting.

Discover more

This article first appeared in issue 16 of Planet Mindful magazine. Want to live more mindfully? Check out more mindfulness techniques here.

Join the Planet Mindful community and make a pact to prioritise your self care – try an issue here for just 99p!