Litter Picking During a Pandemic, Part 2

This morning Jon and I went on our first litter pick since returning from the US last month. We had been meaning to go for a while but had never managed to get ourselves moving early enough to safely go out. Walking at other times of day had proven to be a challenge, but many thanks to the other early morning walkers and runners who practiced appropriate social distancing—we were finally able to see what happens to litter levels when life gets put on hold.

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise, but there is a lot less litter. The route we walked is one we do on a semi-regular basis, finding an average of two very full bags of general rubbish and two weighty bags of recycling. Today it was maybe a half bag of general rubbish, tops, and maybe a quarter of a bag of recycling.

The types of litter found has also changed to some extent. The on-the-go food represented by sandwich cartons and crisp packets was almost non-existent. Instead, random bits of plastic and polystyrene that had escaped from an allotment seemed to be more prevalent. Some pieces were the “litter of ages”: old cans and bottles that we had somehow overlooked on previous rounds. Fast food and takeaway detritus had, understandably, completely disappeared. The car park at the sports field turned up the most litter of the entire walk … although this was also the cleanest we had ever seen it.

You may have seen the news about rubber gloves and face masks being found as litter, and we did pick up a few gloves. However, this isn’t as unusual as you may think. They are often found in conjunction with “whip-its”, silver nitrous oxide cannisters that people use to get high with and are used instead of balloons to contain the NOS gas. This time, however, I suspect that the pandemic is to blame.

It is easy to see that removing people from the picture reduces litter. The students walking to and from Hardenhuish and Scheldon Schools. The groups that gather in Donkey Field. The pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Coupled with the closure of fast food restaurants and takeaways, and impulse buys giving way to shopping for essential items only, and the UK suddenly turns into a much cleaner nation.

Once lockdown ends—and it will end—wouldn’t it be great if we could keep things this way? If people cause litter, then people can also stop it. Check in later this week for an update of the most popular blog post I have ever written, and see my thoughts about what’s needed to bring an end to litter.

Check out Part 1 of Litter Picking During a Pandemic here. If you are going to pick up litter at this time (or any time!), please do it safely:

  • Use a litter picker and gloves, not your bare hands.
  • Leave any dangerous items alone.
  • Do not touch your face.
  • Wash your hands properly as soon as you are able.
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