Sustainable litter-picking

Every now and then I come up against a bit of a thorny litter-picking issue. It is the question of the value of one-off litter-picks as opposed to regular, sustainable litter-picking.

As far as CleanupUK is concerned, our mission is to encourage people, wherever they live, to get together with their neighbours and fellow residents and keep their neighbourhood clean on a regular basis. The idea behind this is both that people tend to litter less in areas that are not already littered but also that peer example and peer pressure are some of the most powerful ways of getting the “don’t litter” message across to other people. This includes the fact that if people see others cleaning up where they live, they will generally be inclined to take more care of the area themselves.

So, the “thorny litter-picking issue”. It is the question of whether it is worth putting effort into one-off cleanups (e.g. an annual spring clean) or whether one should focus exclusively on more regular and sustainable cleanup activities. I was discussing this issue the other day with a really active litter group coordinator and he was quite adamant that his group wasn’t interested in one-off cleanups – they were dedicating themselves to regular activity. This made me think (no bad thing, I guess) and the conclusions I came up with were these.

First, I feel that any effort to pick up litter is a good thing. Litter isn’t doing anyone any good at all by lying there, disfiguring the landscape.

Second, I think that encouraging people to take part in any litter-picking activity is an opportunity to persuade them to do more of it. People realise that, not only is litter-picking an incredibly easy and simple way of making a really noticeable difference to where they live, it is also a great way to bring a community together.

Finally, I would add what I think is the key point about one-off (and large-scale) litter-picks. That is that I would urge anyone organising a one-off or annual litter-pick to think how they can use the opportunity to encourage and support participants to continue the good work throughout the year. This is not necessarily an easy task but it is, I think, a vital step if we are not all simply, day after day, year after year, continuing to clear up other people’s rubbish and simply waiting for them to drop the next lot.

So please let me know what you do – or what you think you could do – to make your local litter-picking long-term and sustainable.

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