Why is Litter Picking Good for the Environment?

Whether it’s on a concreate road, in a woodland or on a beach, the sight of carelessly discarded packaging is enough to make your nose wrinkle in disgust. I turned this disgust into action; purchasing a litter picker for £2.99, donning my gardening gloves and heading out with a black bin bag to clean up the streets.

I don’t just do it for the thrill of it, although this activity is strangely enjoyable and I get a lot of satisfaction from clearing an alleyway or picking up discarded bottles and cans from a woodland. The primary reason is to make the environment safer for the wildlife who call it home and ensure that this form of pollution doesn’t have time to break down and poison the soil. Another great reason for litter picking is to prevent it from ending up in rivers and oceans where the plastic will behave differently and often release toxins that disrupt ecosystems and cause them to collapse.

Littering can be accidental; you may dislodge a chocolate wrapper from your pocket while rummaging for your keys or when you open your car door the wind outside might whip away a crisp packet from your door compartment and you end up chasing it across a field (this has happened to me). More often than not, littering is intentional or lazy; dropping cigarette butts after one last drag, motorists letting the airstream deposit a KFC box on the side of the road or leaving your empty coffee cup/ drinks can on a wall because there aren’t any bins and you don’t want to carry it.

Unfortunately, these attitudes stem from the unreasonable amount of disposable packaging we’re exposed to on a daily basis which includes 753 tonnes (139 African bush elephants worth) of single use plastic used every day in the UK. After it’s reached the end of its single use, that plastic has to go somewhere! There is a weak argument that litter picking is like mopping up the water from a tap that’s still on full, but our efforts aren’t in vain. Clearing an area of litter is likely to encourage wildlife to return. This is most often seen when a beach clean results in turtles nesting for the first time in years, but removing waste ensures that all animals in any habitat will benefit from living in a safer environment where they can flourish.

There is no limit to the benefits that litter picking can provide for the environment, and although littering won’t stop until single-use packaging is eliminated, don’t let the prospect of endlessly picking up other people’s rubbish dishearten you. I’ve found it’s a great way to start a conversation with people in my community; every time I go out at least 10 people say hello to me and at least one person will strike up a conversation with me. Perhaps you’ll inspire someone to do it themselves; I officially became a volunteer litter picker because I happened to see two people clearing up a car park!

Ask your council about how they support litter picking in your area; they might be able to supply you with special bags that mean you don’t fill up your own bin, or lend you a litter picker if you don’t want to buy one yourself.

Finally, please look at these litter picking resources and inspiration, I’ve tried to find some global organisations for people who aren’t based in the UK:

I’d love to hear from you: are you a litter picker? What made you start litter picking? Comment below or visit my contact page to choose a social channel and keep up with the comings and going on In My Stride!

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