Why I pick up litter

This is a confession...I pick up litter. Every day I set aside half an hour, and armed with my litter picker, litter picking hoop and regulation council bag I set off to clear a 300m stretch of street outside my house, freeing my street from the waste that has accumulated over the previous 24 hours.

Some days I collect two bin bags full and report several flytips (mattresses, sofas, pushchairs, lawnmowers, tired looking exercise bikes and other items too large or heavy for my regulation council bag). On other days it’s just a solitary bin bag that I leave by the council bin at the end of the road. I have been doing this for over two years, with just the occasional day off for ‘annual leave’. Never once, ever, ever have I collected nothing.

As the days, weeks and years have ticked by I have made an observation.

People are confused by my behaviour. Most don’t acknowledge me; I like to assume they think I’m an undercover waste management council worker. Some ask outright ‘why are you doing that?’ or ‘do you work for the council?’ A few congratulate me, but they are careful not to hold eye contact just in case they might be recruited into my weird litter picking cult. Others are more willing to engage in conversation –they explain that ‘they too are outraged’, ‘the council is not doing its job’, ‘the local businesses are not clearing up after themselves’ they say ‘people are disgusting animals and I shouldn’t be picking it up, it’s not my job’

I agree, it is not my job; I do not get paid to pick up snotty tissues and never-ending takeaway packaging. I do not get paid to clear the lager cans, cheap vodka bottles and laughing gas canisters. I definitely do not clear the used condoms, lacy thongs and bags of dog poo from my street for the thrill of it. And despite being middle aged I promise I do have other far more pleasant things I could be doing, but even though I could be supping a G&T, I set aside half an hour a day as a way of showing my community that I care. Why? At times, I have wondered myself, but in an effort to enlist new recruits to what I believe is a noble cause, here are my reasons...

I care that my street looks loved, not just because a litter free street will make my house price soar but because I love stepping out and admiring the seasons; watching the cherry trees blossom, chatting to my neighbours, all without my eye being distracted by the remnants of someone's drunken night out. I really love my street. It’s a busy urban road, lavished with a Mcdonalds, a Tesco, several main bus routes and large secondary school, most of the property on my road is rented housing and my house is directly opposite a large council estate that is currently a building site. Want to buy my house? I thought not, go on, you only have to collect a binbag of rubbish ever day! I'll move to a leafy litter free cottage and live out my days complaining my porridge is too hot.

No never! I love my street because it has ‘personality’, it is diverse and busy and vibrant and fun. It has a community so rich and varied in ethnicity, language, beliefs, working hours, profession, time of life and yet through the wonders of a covid-induced whatsapp group we all share a joke and care for each other. My neighbours are funny and kind and this is the real world.

I care because I believe it breeds change and I have proof, when people see someone cares they begin to care too. Be it the elderly lady at number 15 who says she’s starting to sweep her drive again, or the couple at number 32 who have agreed to pick up some litter themselves. Even our street’s serial fly tipping house has slowed in their twice weekly deposits, to just the occasional kettle. My neighbours see that I care in the rain, the snow, when it’s sunny and windy (and windy is the worst weather for litter picking). The residents on my street even meticulously cleared up the litter after a road shaking New Year’s Eve fireworks display, that was both equally terrifying and incredible.

To those who say it's not my job, I would say, well whose job is it? In an ideal world the litter would not be there in the first place. Every imbecile who dropped their takeaway packaging, can of drink, or used condom would be held firmly by the ear and marched back to the scene of the crime where they would be made to put right their wrong. But the world isn’t perfect and nor is my community and if we are ever going to stop the litter droppers, more people need to care and more people need to pick it up. We need to keep recruiting litter pickers until we reach the point where a person looking to deposit their crisp packet on the floor will look fearfully over their shoulder, because littering has become as socially unacceptable as tagging your mum in a post on Insta.

If I haven’t convinced you yet, then let me throw you one last gem...It’s good for you. Litter picking is good for the soul. Bizarrely picking up other people’s discarded detritus is a form of therapy. It gives you a warm, happy, slightly smug feeling. It’s great exercise and makes you feel like you’re living your best life. So litter pickers, go forth and multiply, grab yourself a litter picking wand and a magic hoop and wave it around your community to bring joy.

Confessions of a litter picker

Why I pick up litter - This is a confession...

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