The Litter Picking Commute
Litter, it is everywhere, unsightly, bad for the local wildlife and the environment in general. We see on the news the impact of plastic pollution on the ocean, yet most of it starts on land before ending up in our water. It is a massive problem and an overwhelming one to try and tackle. Ultimately, we need a shift in our infrastructure away from the heavy reliance on plastics and non-degradable materials. However, for the time being it is worth people chipping in to help combat the problem. This can take the form of participating in beach cleans or large litter picking events in national parks, both of which are great but often few and far between. So, I have started doing something I like to call a litter picking commute. Each day I walk around 20 minutes to the lab and the same home and every day I see copious amounts of litter. Rather than just being sad and shaking my head at it, I purchased myself a folding litter picker which stays in my rucksack alongside a shopping bag. On the journey each way I pick litter as I go. It is not a thorough search with the aim of getting every small piece of rubbish, as I have a place to get to, but instead I just collect every piece that I pass, although I will swap sides of the road if necessary. It is scary how much litter can be collected on a short walk, and it is even scarier seeing that on the way home there is just as much.
It is only a small impact, however often lots of little actions can lead to a substantial improvement. If we could get kids walking to school, or university students walking to and from lectures to all litter pick on their commute, it could result in a significant improvement to the amount of rubbish spread throughout our urban areas. It would of course be great to get other groups besides school kids and uni students involved, however they are the groups that frequently walk to and from their daily activities.
I have a foldable litter picker that I keep in my daily rucksack. You can easily find cheap ones online; however, I would highly recommend the one from waterhaul.com as it is made from either recycled face masks or fishing nets. It feels better not to buy a piece of plastic to combat the problem of plastic when there are recycled options available, it is also very portable, of excellent quality and has a magnet on the end which is especially useful for picking up bottle caps. I collect the litter on my walk to and from the university and sometimes do a circuit of the campus during my lunch break. Ideally, I separate out the rubbish before disposing of it (gloves are handy for this) and ensure that the pieces that can be recycled are, however this is not always easy. This is simpler after the walk home as I have recycling bins at my disposal, I do use the ones on campus but not every place of work will have a broad selection of specialist bins. I would also be lying if I said I did this every occasion, if I don’t have time or it is particularly windy making sorting tricky, I will simply dispose of the collected rubbish. This is not perfect; however, it still contributes to cleaning up the local area and protecting the wildlife from harm.
I understand that it can be quite a daunting thing to walk around with a litter picker, it certainly isn’t the norm (although I would love to see that change). I will be honest; I was a tad self-conscious when I started. However, I quickly realised that most people really don’t take any notice and quickly learnt not to worry. In fact, if anything, the reception has actually been quite good. I have been stopped a couple of times by people who have thanked me, asked about my motives, been really interested and positive about me trying to clean up the area. A few people have driven past and stuck their thumb out and again said genuinely nice things as they went by. It is great and reassuring to see the activity received so positively and gives me hope that it could become more common.
Let’s Start the Movement
It would be good to get this going as a social media movement/campaign. Grab a litter picker and a bag, sling it in your rucksack and partake on your way to and from work or just when you are out and about. If you do partake in litter picking on your commute, post a picture on an Instagram story or twitter and use the #litterpickingcommute and tag me (socials at the end of the post).
The day this article is poster (18th September) is ‘World Clean Up Day’ which is all about people chipping in and helping to clean up their area through litter picking, I will be posting a little video on Instagram showing the litter picking commute. Check it out if you’re interested, there are also loads of great people on Instagram showcasing their efforts and it is a great way to get inspired to get out there and clean up the planet.
If you are interested, check out the foldable litter picker made from recycled face masks or old fishing nets from Waterhaul here: Recycled Ocean Plastic Litter Pickers ~ Waterhaul
As always, I welcome any feedback and don't forget to find me on social media:
@plants_n_cells on Instagram
@MaW_Science on Twitter
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Matthew Woodard: Photographer, coffee addict, whisky lover, book worm.