Bear with me...
I was lucky enough to get wind of a community litter pick lately, organised by two lovely young people who, keen to begin growing in their area, wanted to start by improving an area of wasteland just next to their local park.
If there's one thing that's a great way to kick off a community project, then it's picking up litter. It's an easy thing to do, anyone can take part, and there's an immediate visual improvement. It's also the perfect means to begin conversations - not so taxing that it's difficult to concentrate and the people contributing generally have at least a few common interests, so no awkward pauses.
I'm not sure whether I notice it more as I get older, but it seems that it's an increasing problem. Litter seems to be everywhere, and where it falls, it starts a ball rolling and problems become compounded. This particular area is dreadful. Litter has collected over several years, and the desperate undergrowth has fixed it to the ground making it almost impossible to pick up. Layer upon layer has formed, made worse by occasional flytipping and bonfires, capping places with melted plastic and twisted metal. We were barely able to scratch the surface, even collecting nearly 30 bags of rubbish.
The land in question is privately owned (something we found out later), which makes it almost impossible to fix for neighbours or the authorities with a non-compliant owner. I guess technically we trespassed, but our litterpick leaders were desperate to see an improvement and had failed by pursuing the proper channels. So we cracked on, bagging up what we could, ringing up our very helpful council to explain what we'd done and request a bag pick up. It felt like it was the right thing to do.
When you pick up litter, you gain a different perspective on the kind of rubbish that people generate. The biggest proportion of what we collected was plastic - bottles, bags and food packaging, a little bit of polystyrene and the harder kind of plastic used in buckets and abandoned children's toys and appliances. Even if some of this, the bottles for example, were once recyclable, they'd become so contaminated by dirt and debris, that they were only suitable for refuse. Maybe because it doesn't biodegrade, or because it accumulates in different ways, or maybe because it is actually the majority of our waste, it forms the highest proportion - doesn't really matter, we need to cut down. Every bottle could've been avoided if only their owners had felt they'd space and time in their life to take a refillable one into town with them.
There were some glass bottles, not many, which would recycle easily: less contaminated and glass loses less of its quality as it goes through the recycling process so more useful. And lots of window glass, which does not recycle. Worth collecting up for the hazard to passers-by.
And metal - lots of scrap metal and drinks cans, one of which was full and sealed! These are a pretty good bet for recycling too. I do strongly believe that a return deposit on these would mean far fewer of them littering our public places. And maybe a small source of income for the wise.
The remaining assorted debris was relics of people's lives. Silicon sealant from a bathroom refurb, a decking board (partially burnt) from a garden makeover maybe, an old nappy from a day out on the swings, needles and syringes - too many. Far too many. As you pick you contemplate where and why, the stories - some happy memories made, some so desperate and sad - it's almost impossible not to well up
The filth, the lawbreaking, the frustration, the sadness... Why would anyone put themselves through this? If you need more reason than the satisfaction, the comradely jokes and the childish subversion, then maybe this will provide at least one answer. It seems that a simple, shared community activity, like just picking up the rubbish around you, ticks all four Happy Life boxes - pleasant, good, meaningful and full lives. Litter *is* the key to happiness!
See? Told you so! Now go find grabbers, bags and friends and get started!
Treading Lightly is simple living, within your means and the means of the planet, and making a minimal impact on the Earth. Find out more here about Catherine, of Barefoot Solutions, does this from day to day.