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Why I pick up other people's garbage.

A blog post by Anne Duthoit

Earlier in December we put out a request for people who litter pick to tell us their story of why they do it, and we were not disappointed! We will be featuring a series of these blogs over the next few months. Here is Anne, a member of the international Paws on Plastic community, talking about how she got the litter picking bug and why everyone should do it.

I should probably start with why I walk.

I have two big dogs and have had either two or three at all times for the last 15 years. The first one came from a breeder, the second and third were his pups, one of which came back to us after five years at a friend's. The fourth is a trained seeing eye-dog who flunked her exams as a one-year-old and got kicked out of the program, and the fifth is a rescue from the SPA, adopted three days before the first Covid lockdown. In all, we're talking 4 labs and a pointer mix. We also have a rescued cat, who is the leader of the pack.

These dogs need exercise, and they need time out in the real world, learning manners and, for the pointer at least, learning to trust. They need time off the leash and time on the leash. They need to walk, run, and wait patiently while I do what I do when I'm walking.

I don't think I've evolved too far from my hunter-gatherer ancestors. When I walk, I need to bring something home. (You might think bringing the pointer home when he's been off the leash is a major accomplishment, and you might be right about that.)

So I walk fast, and I walk slow, for exercise, for fighting depression and for teaching the dogs all the things they need to know and some other stuff besides. I walk alone with them, and I walk with my friends and their dogs.

I gather walnuts and hazelnuts in the fall, so my mother-in-law can have both a nutritional boost in her salads and a mini-workout for her hands every day. I gather seeds in the summer and scatter them in the fall and the spring.

And I gather trash which I sort into recyclables and waste as I go.

I have been actively litter picking in my village and surrounding villages for about 7 years now. My very local and unpretentious objective is to keep as much plastic as possible out of the local river.

At first, I was the crazy trash lady, and picking up other people's garbage was not well-perceived, to say the least.

And at first, every day I found the same kinds of trash in the same places. I knew exactly where and when the Heineken bottles got thrown into the field, and the Red Bull and Monster cans got tossed in the bushes or left on the park bench. I knew who smoked which brands of cigarettes, and which beers were on sale at the local supermarket. I knew what the old guy fishing in the river had for lunch every day, and how long it took the two teenagers to drink the sodas they bought at McDonalds.

I have found car batteries, a DVD player, countless balls in all states of deterioration, reading glasses, bathing suits, plastic storage boxes, dozens of books, a few dirty magazines, plastic water bottles filled with urine, broken leashes, children's toys, hats, gloves, mittens, scarves, a bird cage, mateless shoes, keys, coins, two telephones, baseball caps, broken bicycles and scooters, watches, Christmas ornaments, rafts, floating beach toys, office chairs, and a kitten.

I have seen muskrats, foxes, deer, horses, hedgehogs, hares, and so many birds!

After about two years of this active picking, the friends I walk with got hooked, and starting picking up trash even when they weren't with me.

I also got more comfortable talking to people about what I was doing, and where they could find trash bins if they needed them. The teenagers were the most receptive. The important thing was not to judge, but rather to share.

Gradually we began to see a change. Clean places began staying cleaner, and the really messy places were a little less messy.

The teenagers began making sure they had cleaned up after themselves, and then they began policing the area where they hang out.

Somebody at the town hall got smart and added a few more trash bins, and that helped. 

The train folks also added lots of bins. 

The people running the refugee house talked to the guys that live there, who have been through so much pain and sorrow, and they stopped leaving their cans in the street.

The school began taking kids out once a year to clean up. This has created a ferocious anti-litter brigade that could compete with any SWAT team out there.

The town hall and some local associations also do a litter pick once or twice a year, and the local kayak rental place does a litter pick from the water every spring. 

Social media has helped raise awareness and it has given greater visibility to actions. 

Trash begets trash, but clean begets clean. If you're the tenth person who throws a can in a field, your can is only 10% of the garbage in that field - you're just adding one more can, it hardly counts, right? But if the field is clean, and you throw one can in it, ALL the cans in the field are yours, and you are responsible for 100% of the trash there.

That's a little harder to justify, even if nobody's looking. 

Now I see other people picking up and saying something to the guy that tosses his trash on the ground at the bus stop.

The dialog has changed - now, the person throwing stuff on the ground looks bad. 

There's still stuff on the ground, in the fields, and in the river. You can't fix stupid. 

But there is definitely greater pride in how clean our village has become, and less tolerance of people messing it up. We are the last line of defence before the trash gets integrated into the ground and the water. 

It's a good start. And the dogs appreciate that I don't stop quite so often. 

I'm looking forward to seeing if any of my seeds will have sprouted this spring. 

If you have been inspired to help tackle litter in your area, our Spring Clean Scotland (21 March to 21 April) is a perfect opportunity to join or organise a litter pick and if you are a fellow dog owner, check out more about the Shine a light on litter campaign.

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