Why I don’t wear Hi-Vis

Look at a photo of any litter picking group and you are likely to notice a striking similarity. The colours might be different—maybe it’s yellow or green or orange—but nearly all groups are pictured wearing hi-vis vests or jackets.

At Off the Ground, we have made the deliberate choice not to wear hi-vis, for a few reasons. First, for the type of picking that Off the Ground does—cleaning litter in an urban environment along existing pedestrian paths—there doesn’t seem to be a need. Second, by not drawing attention to ourselves, we believe that it actually makes litter picking more visible by showing that anyone can do it.

Why is this important? Once someone is wearing that bright yellow (or green or orange) tabard to pick up litter, we feel the public sees them differently: they are now “official” and the hi-vis is proxy for a uniform. They blend into the urban scenery, and picking up rubbish is now viewed as that person or group’s job and responsibility.

There is some evidence to support this point of view. In the “Rapid Evidence Review of Littering Behaviour and Anti-Litter Policies” produced by Brook Lyndhurst for Zero Waste Scotland, this caught my attention:

“… on the one hand, a clean site appears to deter littering but the provision of a cleaning service appears to encourage littering.  Simply knowing that a site is normally littered or gets regularly littered, even if it has been recently cleaned, can be enough to make littering behaviour the norm. In addition, a high-visibility cleaning service can send a signal that someone else is taking responsibility for litter, encouraging littering even on a clean site.” [emphasis added]

Don’t get me wrong—hi-vis is absolutely necessary and vital when it is used for safety reasons such picking along the edge of a road, motorway, or rural path, or in low-light conditions.  But if cleaning a local street or park, perhaps low-vis will actually reap greater dividends?


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