Picking Litter for the Great British Spring Clean 

Written by Ollie Wilkinson

What if we told you there was a spring clean underway that’s sweeping the nation, rather than just your floorboards? A spring clean that wipes the floor with waste, and doesn’t involve marigolds, feather dusters, or Henry the hoover? 

Keep Britain Tidy’s Great British Spring Clean is the biggest clean up act since Adele at the Brits. Ridding us of rubbish and putting the “great” back in the great outdoors, the annual-litter-picking campaign is now finally underway! 

Here’s everything you need to know before getting involved. 

Who are Keep Britain Tidy? 

Keep Britain Tidy is the independent charity behind the Great British Spring Clean campaign. They have three key goals: 

  • • Eradicate litter and fly-tipping 
  • • Improve the quality of public space 
  • • To help people live more sustainably 

Their manifesto is to “inspire the people of Britain to eliminate litter and end waste for now and future generations.” We know right? It’s no wonder we love ‘em! 

Throughout Keep Britain Tidy’s history, they have been at the forefront of initiatives, policies and campaigns that rally against litter and protect our planet. They even played a key role in creating the UK’s first-ever anti-litter legislation! 

The charity does exactly what it says on the tin, keeping Britain tidy and free of litter. You’ve likely seen many of their campaigns, posters and work over the years. Here are a few of our favourites: 

What’s the Great British Spring Clean? 

We humans need to clean up our act, and our planet. And the Great British Spring Clean campaign is all about preserving and protecting public spaces. 

If you’re looking for a collaborative, inspirational campaign that unites people in ridding our planet of rubbish, this is the pick of the litter. 

Every year, thousands of people from all over the UK take part in the annual litter-picking campaign, which encourages #LitterHeroes to collect bags of rubbish from open spaces before disposing of them correctly. 

560,000 volunteer #LitterHeroes took part in 2019’s Great British Spring Clean, making it the “country’s biggest ever mass-action environmental campaign.” 

When does the Great British Spring Clean take place? 

Now in its seventh year, the Great British Spring Clean runs annually. This year, it runs from 25th March – 10 April 2022. 

What’s the theme this year? 

The 2022 Great British Spring Clean message is the #BigBagChallenge, named after its call to action for people to collect rubbish in bags. 

What actually is litter? 

Litter is defined as waste that hasn’t been discarded properly. And unlike the crumbs from those late-night hobnobs you’ve been snacking on, it cannot simply be swept under the carpet. 

Dropping and leaving litter is a danger to local wildlife, people and the planet, which is why it goes straight on our list of major Modern Milkman no-nos. It’s also why we inspired our team and the community to collect over 10,500 pieces of litter during our 2021 Rubbish Summer campaign

Whether it’s fly-tipped furniture or discarded debris, if it’s been dumped irresponsibly, it’s a load of rubbish. And it needs to be disposed of correctly. 

According to Keep Britain Tidy, these are the most commonly littered items: 

  1. 1. Smoking related litter (butts, lighters etc) 
  1. 2. Sweet and chocolate packs 
  1. 3. Soft drink bottles and cans 
  1. 4. Fast-food packaging 
  1. 5. Alcoholic drinks bottles and cans 
  1. 6. Packaging 
  1. 7. Snack packs 
  1. 8. Vehicle parts 
  1. 9. Discarded food and drink 
  1. 10. Clothing 

Impact of litter How does littering affect the environment? 

The trick to ridding our planet of litter? You just pick it up as you go along.  

Litter-picking is a fantastic way to give back to the natural world. Here’s why you should help to reduce the rubbish on our streets, beaches, parks and oceans. 

The impact of litter: 

  • • Litter is a choking hazard for animals. It also damages their habitats and can trap or entangle them. The RSPCA receives 14 calls a day about animals affected by litter.  
  • • Most litter ends up in our ocean, where it pollutes the water and endangers sealife. 
  • • Litter damages and spoils the world’s beautiful natural landscapes.  
  • • Litter isn’t just unsightly. It also carries germs and diseases that make people sick. 
  • • Irresponsibly discarding waste means sustainable materials aren’t recycled or reused. 
  • • Cleaning up rubbish costs taxpayers millions of pounds per year. These funds could be put towards other environmental missions if people stopped littering. 
  • • Litter can take thousands of years to break down. That’s thousands of years of needless contamination. 
  • • Litter increases the amount of harmful greenhouses gases in our atmosphere These contribute to global warming and the climate crisis. 

Litter known facts 

  • • 2.25 million pieces of litter are dropped on UK streets every day (Keep Britain Tidy). 
  • • By 2050, there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean (World’s Children’s Prize). 
  • • In 2020/21, local authorities in England dealt with 1.13 million incidents involving fly-tipping. FYI, by fly-tipping, we mean the dumping of large waste, not giving a bluebottle some loose change. And by “dumping of large waste”, we mean abandoning furniture and other big items on roadsides, not what happens in the bathroom after an all-you-can-eat buffet. 
  • • Cleaning up litter costs taxpayers £885 million every year (Keep Britain Tidy). 
  • • 95% of farmers say they’ve had to clear dumped rubbish from their land (Litterbins.co.uk). 
  • • Town centres spend £20,000 on cleaning up chewing gum (Keep Britain Tidy). 
  • • 99% of England’s town centres have cigarette litter (Keep Britain Tidy), with 4.5 trillion butts discarded globally every year (Litterbins.co.uk). 
  • • Up to 14 million tonnes of plastics enter our ocean every year. This figure is set to rise to 29 million per year by 2040 (Marine Conservation Society). 
  • • Nearly half of all people admit to dropping litter (Litterbins.co.uk). 

How to get involved in the Great British Spring Clean 

The Great British Spring Clean urges you to pledge to pick up as much litter as possible, by setting a specific number of bags as a target. In 2022, over 100,000 bags have been pledged so far. 

Getting involved in the Great British Spring Clean is easy. Simply click on the links below and let them know how much time and the number of bags you’d like to pledge:  

Litter-picking equipment: what you need 

Litter-picking requires equipment, the most important of which being a litter-picker. We know, shocking right?  

You may be thinking, why can’t I just use my hands? Well, by its very nature, litter is pretty unsanitary, and sharp objects such as cans can be a real menace. 

Here’s a full breakdown of what you’ll need: 

  • • Litter-picker 
  • • Heavy duty, protective gloves 
  • • Bin bags 
  • • A litter bag hoop 
  • • Hand sanitiser 

Local authorities are usually happy to provide litter-picking equipment to volunteers, so it’s worth checking Keep Britain Tidy’s list of participating councils. Or, if you’re looking to become a litter-picking pro, check out Keep Britain Tidy’s kits to buy everything you need online. 

Safety tips to bear in mind 

Litter-picking is a heroic thing to do, but it shouldn’t require death-defying stunts. Here are a few tips to ensure safety remains the number one priority: 

  • Avoid chemical containers, syringes and sharp objects. These need to be collected in containers, not litter bags. 
  • If you’re picking litter on your own, do so in daylight and let people know where you’ve gone. 
  • Cover any cuts with waterproof surgical tape or plasters. 
  • Use hand sanitiser and wash your hands frequently. 
  • Don’t pick litter in hazardous areas with fast-flowing water, deep water, busy roads, cliffs, or electric fences. 
  • Stick to public land. 
  • Keep your hands away from your face while you’re litter-picking. 

What else can I do to reduce litter? 

The Great British Spring Clean may only run once a year, but elimating litter and reducing waste is something we should be doing all year round.  

Spring into action and keep the streets as clean as your conscience with these activities: 

Voluntary litter-picking 

Community litter picks take place all over the UK, and they’re a great way to get to know fellow eco warriors in your neighbourhood.  

We actually have a few people in the Modern Milkman squad who get involved in these events, with many loving the mindfulness they reach through cleaning up our great outdoors. 

If you organise your litter-picking meet-up with the local authorities, they’ll often provide equipment and take away the bags of litter you collect. To discover your local litter-picking groups, we recommend searching on Google and social media. 

Plogging 

Plogging is a new running trend that started in Sweden, and is now taking the UK by storm. Combining jogging with litter-picking, plogging is when eco-conscious runners collect rubbish during their cardio workouts.  

Collecting discarded items along your route leaves a clean, litter-free wake in your path. But plogging isn’t just healthy for the planet, as bending over as you run also improves your body’s oxygenation and bone density, while reducing the risk of arthiritus. 

Just remember, if you’re asking someone if they want to join you in plogging at your local park, just be sure you clearly enunciate those first two letters. You’ve been warned! 

How else can I reduce waste? 

Become a lean, mean, green machine and give the planet a much-needed, squeaky clean break from waste. 

How to get started: 

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