Every cloud has a silver lining if we are willing to see them. One silver lining that brightens the dark cloud of Covid-19 lockdowns is a surge in litter pickers, especially in the UK.
For instance, Keep Britain Tidy’s #LitterHeroes Facebook group doubled in size over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, and they reported receiving unusually high numbers of requests for litter-picking kits.
“There are definitely a lot more people litter-picking now,” declares chief executive Allison Ogden-Newton. “We’ve all spent a lot more time in our neighborhoods over the past year and a half: seeing the same streets and spaces every day and noticing what’s around us.”
Community litter-picking groups like the Dorset Devils and the Marlow Wombles keep the momentum going by generously lending out their volunteer pickers and equipment to civic-minded neighbors, recognizing that we are all together in the goal of improving the state of our environments.
As lockdowns began to ease, the litter-picking movement only picked up speed as the lifting of restrictions led to more dumps of rubbish. People are also getting creative to bolster the cause and bring awareness to the issue of littering. For instance, members of Ullapool Sea Savers have started stenciling “The sea starts here, please don’t litter” around drains to discourage passersby from throwing their trash in them, while a local litter-hunter on the south-east coast of the UK creates rainbow “beach-clean plastic” artworks from the trash that she finds. She donates ten percent of the proceeds she makes from the sale of her art to Leave No Trace Brighton, a community organization focused on eliminating litter on the city’s beaches.
While these are all admirable efforts, the question that remains in many skeptics’ heads is whether picking up litter makes much of a difference—and the answer is, absolutely! Even though the world’s pollution problem must be addressed at its source, there is still a lot of evidence that demonstrates how clean-ups make a difference.
Firstly, every piece of trash that is disposed of properly or recycled is one less hazard for local wildlife or even people. Plus, seeing participants picking up litter or participating yourself can have a long-term educational impact. Litter-picker Liz says, “[litter-picking] shows children and young people that there is an alternative and [that] I care.”
There are also a growing number of projects like the Open Litter Map database and the Planet Patrol app that ask users to provide information about what they find with the aim of being able to pinpoint the main sources and understand more about the challenge of litter. If the challenge is better understood, it will become easier to come up with targeted solutions and hold the biggest single-use plastic pumping culprits accountable.
If you still need to be convinced that litter-picking is a worthwhile activity, then we’re happy to report that Public Health England has heralded litter-picking as a great way to boost mental and physical health as it brings people together and creates a sense of belonging and community pride.
So, the next time you’re feeling hopeless about the state of the world, combat it with the simple act of filling a bag or two with the litter you find in your own neighborhood. It not only helps the planet but supports your own well-being, too.