Registering your clean up makes a difference

A blog post by Suzanne Roberts

Suzanne Roberts
Communications Manager

Posted 21/03/2019

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My plea to shout out about your litter picking and show others how many likeminded people care for our environment.

Since the Primary 6 lesson in the 80s when I was asked to draw a picture reflecting the impact litter could have on our environment I’ve been passionate about doing something about it. I drew an image of a mouse trapped in a bottle surrounded by daffodils and tulips.  Little did I know that in years to come I’d sadly pick up bottles containing dead mice on clean ups.

We know that litter levels are at their worst in a decade.  We know that littered streets and parks tend to encourage further littered sites.  We know that clean sites can deter littering.

And, we know that thousands of people across Scotland are organising and taking part in litter picks of the places they care about as part of our Spring Clean.  Many register their efforts with us or with other organisations supporting them.   

So, it was with interest that I realised I had stopped recording and registering my efforts and findings with the charity I work for.  I’ve stopped going to organised clean ups full of people horrified at the scale of the litter problem that they seem to be seeing for the first time.  I realised that I might have litter-picking fatigue.  For twenty years I’ve loved attending clean up events.  I’ve been inspired by people who come out in all weathers to keep Scotland beautiful, and I have recorded every event and piece of litter.  Why did I stop? Well I think litter picking just became part of my everyday life.

For each newcomer to the addiction that is litter picking there are almost as many doing it across the world silently, un-thanked and often unnoticed.  I’ve become that person – swooping to pick up a discarded crisp bag or an abandoned bottle, often forgetting to look behind me to see the person who has to swerve to avoid me as I suddenly stop and bear down on the litter with a joyful silent whoop.  As they tut and walk by, I sigh and keep going – wondering why people keep littering.

Maybe it’s because people like me have stopped shouting about the scale of the problem, that others feel it is ok to toss items to the ground.  Of all the environmental challenges we are faced with, removing litter from the equation should be the easiest.  We all have it in us to put the rubbish we are finished with in a bin, to take it home and recycle it, or not to use the packaging in the first place.  We all have the ability to pick up a piece of discarded waste and dispose of it properly.

While national government and charities work with industry to reduce packaging at source and encourage others to recycle and reuse, litter picking is a vital part of the approach needed to reduce litter in the environment – and is something every one of us can do.

But, it’s not that simple is it?  In fact, it seems to be harder now than ever.

It dawned on me that all of us who litterpick silently, daily, weekly or annually need to collectively step up and record what we are doing. Because without the evidence of how many people are picking up, and how much litter is being collected, we will never demonstrate that people, communities and businesses across Scotland do care and are taking action in huge numbers.  We will never show the litterers that they are the minority.

As your charity for tackling the issue of litter nationally, Keep Scotland Beautiful needs information to evidence the scale of the clean up movement, we need to be able to showcase the community action across Scotland and demonstrate to politicians, to communities not yet involved, and to the small persistent number of people that still litter, that people do care about the quality of their local spaces.  We monitor and record litter on approximately 14,000 sites each year – so we have evidence of the problem.  This year we have more than 40,000 people registered with us who are cleaning up – but, I wonder how many people, like me, have stopped telling us what they are doing?

The benefits of litter clean ups include the obvious – a litter free area for everyone to enjoy.  But, the additional benefits often go unnoticed. 

They can include improved social cohesion, intergenerational integration, and a sense of pride that can lead to people using a space again and again.  Public engagement via clean ups can also lead to behaviour change - if every person who participates in a clean up thinks about their consumption of items, and how they are disposed, it will help us tackle the Climate Emergency we find ourselves facing.

But, stats to evidence the scale of community action across Scotland and to demonstrate that people care about their local environmental quality – now that is what we need.  There will be a tipping point one day, where more people are litter picking than not – perhaps we are already there – but if we don’t tell others what we are doing we’ll never know and organisations won’t be able to use the data to take action!

So, I am going to keep doing what I do every day, because every bottle I pick up could save another mouse, but I am also going to organise another clean up in my community, I am going to register it with Clean Up Scotland and I am going to shout about it to my networks on social media and in person.

If, like me, you’ve stopped registering your clean ups, and stopped shouting about your events, why don’t you join me in reconnecting and being part of the solution? You can register your litter pick with us here.

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