The title of this post is a literal one, as I want to talk about litter. My personal impression is that while campaigns like Keep Britain Tidy have done a lot to improve the state of our streets there still seems to be a core of people who think it is okay to leave their rubbish behind on beaches. Sadly the same is true of other outdoor spaces, and with picnicking high on the agenda with the recent good weather the problem is getting worse. Of course there are much wider issues than just those who can’t be bothered to take their waste home or find a bin but that’s where I’m going to start.
Taking a walk on the beach yesterday collecting shells with little ‘un I came across broken bottles, chocolate bar wrappers and plastic bottles. A council employee on the beach on litter picking duty appeared to have a bin liner than was half full. When there are bins dotted at regular intervals you have to wonder what the excuse is. It has been a while since I either snorkelled or dived but in the past it was rare to do either without coming across discarded cans or plastic bags.
Obviously some of the litter is unlikely to cause physical harm, and is more of an eyesore, but broken glass is a clear hazard, and plastic bags can be fatal to wildlife if they either become entangled or mistake them for food. I saw the ad below some time ago and thought it was a clever representation of the problem. Another common sight on my local beach is knotted strands of fishing line, more often than not with hooks still attached. Again both the hooks and line can present dangers for humans and marine life alike. As someone who had to visit A&E a few years back to get a tetanus shot after stepping on a discarded fishing hook I know just how painful an unexpected encounter can be.
So, what is to be done? First up a little personal responsibility goes a long way. If you’re out and about and there isn’t a bin nearby, or it’s full, please take it with you. We’ve all been sat outside having a picnic when a gust of wind has whipped something away. We chase after hats but not so much after rubbish, so perhaps more effort on that front is needed. And I’m not suggesting everyone should do it, because I’d hate for anyone to injure themselves, but if you see something sharp lying around and you can move it safely then why not? Today I used a spare bucket to collect a few items lying on the beach, hopefully sparing someone an injury, and disposed of them safely. I consider it a bit of micro-volunteering (must blog about that some other time) and it makes me feel like I’ve done a good deed for the day. The majority shouldn’t have to clean up after the anti-social minority but if more people did a little, spaces would be that bit safer and tidier.
The Marine Conservation Society has a number of campaigns running in relation to clean seas and beaches. These include Beach Watch and the Beachwatch Big Weekend. Every year volunteers collect vast quantities of rubbish! Their basic safety guidelines include using heavy duty garden gloves if you have them, and staying away from containers or drums that may contain hazardous substances. For anyone who is interested in joining in you can look for organised events here.
The disposal of plastic bags is a big issue above and below water and, while in this country there doesn’t seem to be much momentum behind banning or taxing them, I’d like to think we as a nation could be more proactive about minimising our use of them without needing to be compelled. So many shops now sell cotton, hemp and jute bags (among others) with fabulous designs on, why not tote something that’s far more attractive than a carrier bag. And if you need lots for a big shop consider buying the reusable bags on offer. They don’t cost much, many places will replace them for free once they are coming to the end of their life and you don’t end up with hundreds of the single use blighters to dispose of.
Our oceans and outdoor spaces can be absolute jewels, and it would only take some small changes to make a big difference, so this is really a plea for people to think more about their actions and make the most of these natural assets!