Smashing litter picking targets during an unexpected stay in Scotland
A blog post by Lilian Keaty
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With our Summer Clean taking place from 28 May – 20 June we’ve loved hearing about what all the litter heroes across Scotland have been doing to clean up their neighbourhoods.
Here we hear from Lilian Keaty, her new found interest in litter picking and why she is keeping the south Ayrshire coast clean and tidy whilst on her elongated visit to Scotland.
In 2019 my husband Jim and I made the brave (admittedly, some might say slightly mad) decision to give up our jobs in Australia, escaping a life of corporate stress for one of travelling and unknown adventures.
And it really has been quite an adventure, with two of our biggest 'unknowns' so far being that we've found ourselves parked in Scotland for over a year, and that litter picking has become my new favourite hobby.
By February 2020, we'd already made our way through a chunk of Asia. With Covid on the increase across the continent, we decided to shift our travels to Europe. After a month hiking in Greece, the virus was starting to catch up and the country slipped into shutdown mode, pretty much overnight.
Unsure what to do next, but very pressed for time, Jim's family suggested we could stay near them in Scotland for a while. So with some super fast travel bookings we found ourselves stepping off the X77 bus in Prestwick two days later, thinking we'd be here for two or three months. (Spoiler alert - over a year later, we're still here!)
With lots of time on our hands, I started volunteering locally at a charity store. We also packed in daily walks along the beach and walking trails, which quickly highlighted how much litter is strewn about the local area. Keen to help tackle the local litter situation, I got involved earlier this year with the South Ayrshire Clean-Up Campaign (SACC).
SACC was set up in January 2021 by Chris Johnson, with a target of collecting 1 million pieces of litter across South Ayrshire in 2021. It's a great initiative and provides a central community hub for individual and group litter pickers across South Ayrshire. To date, nearly 450 people have joined SACC's Facebook group, and over 450,000 pieces of litter have been collected – putting the campaign well ahead of target. Getting involved with SACC is super easy too - volunteers simply fill a bag with litter in their local neighbourhood and once binned, the litter can be logged quickly online at saccmillion.org with details of the location and number of pieces.
To make things even more interesting, in parallel with contributing to the overall SACC target, I set myself my own personal challenge of collecting 20,000 pieces of litter over 100 days. Armed with litter picker and bags, I headed out every day for a couple of hours, whatever the weather, combing the local beaches, dunes, streets and parks. Surprisingly, and perhaps even a little alarmingly, I smashed my target of 20,000 pieces in only 37 days! Along with contributing to a great community initiative, litter picking gives me heaps of exercise, and I enjoy reporting back to the group on my latest litter counts and quirky finds, which to date include lacy underwear, frying pans, a 3 metre garden hose and a multitude of odd shoes and socks.
I've always hated the visual impact of litter, but getting involved with SACC has made me far more aware of the detrimental effects on wildlife and health. A study commissioned by WWF found that people ingest around 2,000 tiny pieces of plastic a week (the equivalent of a credit card), while UNESCO facts and figures on marine pollution state that plastic debris causes the deaths of more than a million seabirds every year, as well as more than 100,000 marine animals. That's simply terrifying, and something I feel we all need to acknowledge and help address. One lady who litter-picks on a local beach summed it up nicely when she said “I like to think that every piece of litter I put in my bag, potentially saves the life of another animal”.
One of the questions I get asked a lot is how litter in Australia compares to Scotland. It's a big question, and one that can be considered from lots of different angles. Certainly there are litter problems in Australia, with highways, industrial areas, car parks, popular beaches and large shopping malls being typical 'hot spots' for litter. But still, I've personally never encountered the same amount of litter I've seen locally here in Scotland – perhaps being an active litter-picker has just made me more aware of it. And I'm sure that lockdown has also contributed to the problem, with more people heading outdoors while pubs and restaurants have been closed.
Hopefully, ongoing campaigns to drive awareness, education and behavioural change around litter will help move us all towards a litter-free environment.
When we set off from Sydney a couple of years ago, little did I know I'd be sitting writing about my experiences litter picking in Scotland. Still, it's been a very positive experience, and who knows where I might end up litter picking in the future?
Has this inspired you to help us clean up Scotland? Why not set yourself a goal and pledge your time to help us keep Scotland beautiful during our Summer Clean.