So You Want To Run a Litter Pick …

One of the goals of the new Off the Ground website is to make it easy for anyone to run their own community litter pick. When we started five years ago, we found that information was scattered everywhere across the internet, and many of the nitty-gritty details about how to actually carry out a litter pick was missing. Soon I’ll launch a proper Cleaning Zone dedicated to everything someone might need: risk assessment forms, liability forms, things-to-bring checklists, spreadsheets to record rubbish, etc. If there is anything else you would like to see, or any tips you want to ensure get passed on, please drop me a line

In the meantime, here’s a quick overview …

First of all, if you are considering running a clean-up, just do it! You’ll be surprised at how many other people feel the same way you do and will want to participate. The first public clean-up you run will always be the hardest, but once you have a blueprint in place, it gets much easier. The things to consider:

  • Choosing a location: An area that is easy for volunteers to get to, has parking, and, if at all possible, has bathroom facilities is preferable. Avoid dangerous areas near roadways or bodies of water.

  • Make contact with the landowner: Who can give you permission to use the land you identified? Where should the rubbish be left for collection, and who will be doing the collection? Can recycling be collected separately? [At Off the Ground, we tally all recycling by brand and dispose of it at the household recycling centre ourselves as it would otherwise be sent to landfill.] If you are on town/county council land, can they provide insurance/equipment?

  • Health and safety: Carry out a risk assessment and make sure you have the necessary equipment to keep volunteers safe (gloves, litter pickers). Do you have liability insurance, or can your group operate under a local authority’s insurance? It may also be worth creating a liability release form that outlines H&S considerations such as not collecting needles, dog poo, broken glass, etc.

  • Equipment: Much of the basic litter picking equipment can be borrowed from the local council, but you may wish to build up your own collection.

    • Litter pickers: The company Helping Hands Environmental make robust litter pickers that can be easily repaired.
    • Hoops: These keep bags open and make it much easier to double bag so that recycling and general rubbish can be separated.
    • Gloves: A must-have, but please make sure they’re reusable and not disposable.
    • Bags: Make sure they’re strong; if you’re separating recycling and general rubbish, it’s helpful to have two colours, such as clear for recycling and black for everything else.
    • Other: Anti-bacterial wipes are great to have on hand for people to wipe up afterwards as they remove any dirt better than just hand gel (although it is a shame about the waste produced). It is also useful to have:
  • First aid kit
  • Sharps box (make sure people are aware of how to dispose of needles or notify local council to collect)
  • Scissors
  • Pens
  • Clipboards (if you are doing release forms)
We have a marquee and table to set up to make it easier for people to see us; it’s a good way to spark conversation with people who are passing by.

One item of equipment that is not on this list are hi-vis jackets; I am personally against using them for litter clean-ups if they are taking place in an area where you usually wouldn’t wear one. This is because I feel they actually make volunteers invisible to the public; the hi-vis becomes a proxy uniform and easy to ignore, whereas not wearing one sends the message that anyone can clean up. It also tends to spark more of a dialogue with the public as those passing by will ask why you’re cleaning.
  • Publicity: There are a number of places where the clean-up can be advertised, and I recommend starting at least 6 weeks in advance. Social media, such as through a group’s Facebook or Twitter feed, or via town or city Facebook groups; friends and family; local shops may have a place where you can display a poster; press release to a local newspaper. Is the clean-up tied into any national events, such as the Great British Spring Clean or World Clean-up Day? It is often possible to register on their website.

  • On the day: If there is an extreme weather event, make sure you get the word out that the clean-up is cancelled. Otherwise, give yourself plenty of time to arrive for setup and check for any potential last-minute health and safety issues. If you are planning to run regular clean-ups, it’s great if you can provide tea, coffee, and maybe a snack for volunteers, or maybe operate a treat rota. If possible, try to avoid single-use plastic products.

  • Documentation: It is useful to record how much rubbish you collect at each clean-up to show the difference you’re making, as well as take photos. The latter are especially important if you plan to get publicity to call attention to the problem of litter (a picture is truly worth 1000 words when it comes to rubbish!).

  • Share the load: Make sure you have others willing to step in and run/organise clean-ups so all the work doesn’t fall on your shoulders. Burnout is a real possibility, and to that end…

  • Don’t get discouraged: Litter WILL reappear in areas that you clean, often far quicker than you anticipate. Just remember that you are doing the right thing!

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