Recently, I was walking in Richmond Park with my partner, our friend and her two young children. It was a beautiful spring day and a real chance to blow away the cobwebs. Richmond Park is outstandingly beautiful and well maintained. Sadly, not all visitors treat it accordingly and as we were walking I spotted three empty plastic water bottles. Instinctively, I picked up the bottles ready to throw away in a litter-bin. My friend’s son Jack, who is only four asked me what I was doing, so I explained to him that litter is dangerous for the animals as well as looking unsightly (using four year old terminology). To my surprise, he immediately spotted a larger empty plastic bottle some ten metres away. He walked straight over to it and picked it up, wanting to take it to a bin as well. So, off we went and disposed of the bottles. Later when we were walking through the town centre, Jack once again spotted another bottle, which he merrily picked up and asked where we could throw it away. Jack had suddenly become a litter champion.
The afternoon’s events reminded me of a conversation with a colleague who told me about what happens when she goes to the beach with her friends and their children. At the end of the day, they all have to pick up five pieces of rubbish that did not belong to their party. I remember thinking what a great idea, particularly as awareness is being raised, in part to Sir David Attenborough’s BBC Blue Planet episode talking about plastic pollution. I suggested spreading the word through social media but of course there are already campaigns up and running such as Pick Up 3 Pieces (pickup3.org.uk) and Take 3 For The Sea (take3.org) to name but a few. Of course this doesn’t have to be limited to just the beach, it can include anywhere such as the park or playground.
Statistics and ways forward
According to statista.com, in September 2018, 655 pieces of litter were collected per 100 metres on English beaches. This was the highest amongst Scotland at 559, Wales at 528, Northern Ireland at 508 and The Channel Islands at 168. Additionally, litterbins.co.uk state that cleaning up litter from just the streets of Britain costs taxpayers around £500 million, with 48% of people admitting to dropping litter. We have seen an increase of 500% since the 1960s.
There are many considerations for tackling the ongoing worldwide problem. As climate change becomes more and more a focal point for all generations, corporations are beginning to consider the impact of their business and how they can contribute to a reduction of disposable items. In 2015 supermarkets and stores were forced to start charging 5p for carrier bags when the Government introduced a new law. This charge is to be raised to 10p per bag and extended to all retailers in January 2020, under plans set out by the environment secretary. The change has seen an 86 percent reduction in big supermarket plastic bag sales. Under their own environmental policies, some chains are now looking at other ways of reducing packaging and therefore leading to less waste for disposal.
As individuals and communities we also have our part to play, which brings me back to the various campaigns I mentioned above. Social media can have a very important influence by bringing communities together, with volunteers organising tidy up days, raising awareness and the encouraging of reporting fly-tippers. With the right education we can make a difference, but we also need the correct facilities provided by the relevant authorities such as adequate refuse collection services and more public places for our litter that are emptied appropriately. This needs to include organic waste because even a banana skin is considered litter.
Combating the litter problem will lead to cleaner oceans, rivers, parks and public spaces bringing us a healthier and happier planet for all those that dwell on it.
About the author: Stuart Dickson