A Cleaner Earth for our Cetaceans and Communities
Litter is all around us. Indeed Keep Britain Tidy estimates a daily litter-toll of over 2 million pieces in the UK alone. Luckily, a range of dedicated charities, websites, blogs and initiatives offer advice, support and encouragement to the aspiring litter-picker on local, national and international levels. Less discussed is the internal experience of the litter-picker. “I felt a little embarrassed picking up litter at first – but to see change, you have to be the change” entitles an endearing article in the Lancashire Telegraph, in which Ikhlaq Hussain describes his discovery and growing commitment to local litter-picking since January, 2021. Reading this got me thinking about my own internal experiences while collecting litter.
It is not always practical, but I react to litter on an emotional level, experiencing a deep sense of hurt and helplessness on behalf of the planet. This drives my need to physically do something to assuage the guilt I feel for being part of the Earth’s most wasteful species. I also spend additional time campaigning, and advocating for waste minimisation and responsible waste management in other ways, e.g. through making well-informed, ethical decisions as an eco-conscious consumer. Could my litter-picking hours, however, be better spent finding additional ways to personally:
Reduce my waste;
Re-use as much and as often as possible;
Recycle or Responsibly dispose of any unavoidable waste?
I am a solitary litter-picker and often undertake impromptu collections when I encounter a stretch of beach, river bank or green space where rubbish has accumulated. Lockdown has encouraged us all to appreciate our local nature in isolation, and this mental freedom has allowed me to pay greater attention to the thoughts and emotions accompanying my litter-picking episodes. To my surprise, I have identified a recurring series of internal responses which are triggered by each new piece of litter, progress in a cycle as I collect each piece, and repeat as I locate my next litter target.
Stage 1 – Excitement
Within each hunt for litter, I feel a jolt of triumph, even glee, every time I spot a new piece of rubbish.
Stage 2 – Anger
As I approach its location, I become irritated that someone has neglected their waste disposal duties in the first place, then indignant that fellow passers-by have failed to notice or clear it up before my arrival.
Stage 3 – Satisfaction
A fleeting glow of pleasure accompanies the physical act of removing picking up the offending object from the environment. In that moment, I feel warmly virtuous and content, tinged with insecurity over whether my self-satisfaction has spilled over into feeling superior over others, who lack the time or inclination to litter-pick.
Stage 4 – Frustration & Despair
A sense of helplessness creeps over me as I consider the litter’s origin, almost instantly followed by a flood of despair that I am a lone litter-picker in a landscape of litterers and uninterested pedestrians. How can I hope to make an impact when the next high tide, breeze, squirrel, fox or passage of irresponsible people will replace what I have removed and further entrench or distribute what I have missed or been unable to access? What is the point?
Stage 5 – Rationalisation & Resignation
This is the most complex stage – a grapple between my rational and emotional consciousnesses. Rationally, I recognise my personal limits, but on an emotional level I cannot choose to stop noticing litter and seeking solutions. On a rational level I understand that my conscience will not let me passively fund large-scale clean-up campaigns without also physically doing something constructive. Therefore, I resign myself to experiencing the emotional frustration and despair of stage four without engaging with it on a rational level. I am human, I am one person and therefore can only do so much, and in my case the physical act of removing litter must be part of my contribution to waste reduction for my sanity.
Stage 6 – Reassurance & Hope
Solo litter-picks bring up feelings of isolation and despair at the scale of the litter problem, but in reality none of us is alone. They may not be in sight, but fellow litter-pickers are striving worldwide to reduce humanity’s footprint of rubbish, and in that knowledge I take heart. If I continue litter-picking, minimising my personal waste and encouraging others to avoid littering, the push towards global waste reduction and a ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ lifestyle will continue to grow.
Sea Watch Foundation Education & Outreach Assistants’ Pledge and Challenge:
We pledge to litter-pick and post the evidence every day of the Big Give #GreenMatchFund campaign (22-29 April).
Please sponsor us or join us!
Earth Day kicks off an exciting week of fund-raising for the Sea Watch Foundation, as The Big Give have agreed to match all donations we receive during their inaugural Green Match Fund Campaign up to £5,000. All money donated to us through this campaign will fund our work Saving Britain’s Dolphins.
As Education and Outreach Assistants, Emma and I pledge to spend 60 minutes, every day, for the 7 days of this campaign, collecting and responsibly disposing of litter from our local wild spaces. We shall present proof of our litter-picking exploits by uploading short films, photographs and any particularly entertaining anecdotes on a daily basis. We request sponsorship from our friends and family so that we can maximise our personal contributions to Saving Britain’s Dolphins and we challenge you to do the same. Every donation to us via the #GreenMatchFund campaign will be doubled by The Big Give. Every minute you gain sponsorship to collect litter helps restore our Earth directly and increases the size of your doubled donation to fund Sea Watch Foundation’s work in 2021. Please sponsor, support and join us in whichever way you can.
We look forward to seeing and hearing about your progress over the next week. Thank you for all the support you continue to give and Happy #GreenMatchFund campaign!