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  • Christine Grosart

Lockdown Litter - Time to take a stand?

"Do you think that's cider?"

I asked my next door neighbour, Redd, as we poked through the brambles on the side of the road with our litter pickers.

It was a cold, slightly windy and very dull grey day. We were in the middle of the longest lock down ever and so utterly bored and fed up that we decided to start cycling.

It was during our tentative, lung bursting wobbles around the village that we were both noticing horrendous amounts of litter.

“Mate…that’s not cider….”

Before and after our village litter pick #1

I did wonder. I mean, why would you drink some of it and then put the lid back on the 1 litre plastic bottle, then chuck it in the hedge?

How naïve. I’m a Paramedic as well, so the smell as I emptied it should have been a clue.

Just gross.

Turns out, the lorry drivers that have been visiting the village industrial estate have been parking up for the night or for a few hours to take their rest periods - and without toilet facilities, have been peeing in bottles and chucking them into our hedgerows.

Single use face masks. The latest scourge. Once in our drains, they are in our waterways and cause blockages - the least of our concerns.

A new blight was also noticeable, mostly within a short range of our village ‘hub’ the Co-Op convenience store. This seemed to be the final resting place for 15 of the 31 single use face masks we found.

According to the Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean 2020 results, Personal protective Equipment (PPE) was significantly increased.

Face masks and gloves were found on almost 30% of beaches during the clean-up. The Source to Sea Litter Quest data showed that more than two thirds (69%) of litter picks finding PPE items such as masks and gloves.

For more information, visit the MCS PPE Appeal.


Further down the road, drinks bottles, food containers, takeaway cartons and even full bags of litter thrown from car windows increased in quantity and density.

In one gateway, a pile of plastics had accumulated at the pinch point of a stream, right next to a field where cows were grazing. In another, piles of empty Carling cans densely filled one hedgerow. Someone had clearly had a fun drinking session here, but not only did they forget to take their cans away - they also left the 4-pack plastic yokes behind. Three of them.

Uncut, these can cause horrific injuries to wildlife.

Some companies are now making these yokes not only degradable but edible! Carling claim to have got rid of the plastic yokes but a quick visit to the village Co-Op showed a very different story. There was the puppy - and the poo.

Talking of poo….Redd is a dog owner and is incensed by other dog owners who leave their dog turds lying around on pavements and other people’s driveways. It isn’t surprising either, as the village has several escapees who wander the village by themselves. Presumably the owners neither know nor care.

We recovered over 750 items of litter in just under 4 hours.

Some hero.......Argos - what are you thinking?

At the beginning of February, I embarked on a National Geographic educator course called ‘Collecting Data to Explore Plastic Pollution in Our Communities’. It ties in quite nicely with the data collection work I am doing for the charity I run called Ghost Fishing UK.

Through this course I’ve learned how to create some very powerful and visual results. We did another one in the village on 14th February, just 20 minutes as per the Nat Geo course task.

In just 20 minutes we collected 116 pieces of litter!

If you are interested in doing litter picks, whether in the area you live your favourite beauty spot or on the beach, here are some handy tips to get you started.

Protect Yourself

Not just by using PPE, but from other people during the pandemic and those who like to cause trouble.

Make sure you use gloves and get yourself a litter picker. I definitely recommend a bag hoop to keep your bag open, especially on a windy day.

During lock down, you can exercise with one person, so keep 2 metres apart and have one of you recording data and one of you picking.

Get written consent from anyone you take a photo of (you don’t legally need it, but you may with children if you plan on publishing) and complete an easy risk assessment form (Example risk assessment form).

Wear high vizibility jackets, wrap up warm and make sure your phone is full charged.

Data Collection

There are several data collection tools out there - I would argue far too many, as this means all the data is collected differently by different people and there is no standardisation and no central database.

So, it is up to you where you hang your flag and what you use.

Here are some suggestions:

Marine Debris Tracker app

Set up a free account and you can download the data from the CSV file on their website.

This can be imported into Google Earth (instructions below).

Simply choose the list (begin with NOAA if you are new to it, but the Nat Geo list is very comprehensive) and tap on the item of litter each time you bag it. The app follows your route and will drop a pin on a map each time you log a piece of litter.

This is a very powerful tool for collecting geospacial data and provides evidence of litter ‘hotspots’.

To get the map, screen grab the plotted map BEFORE you submit your data

or you won’t be able to get it back!

The app generates some cool graphics which can be screen grabbed from the website.

To make a cool Google Earth KML file, follow these instructions:

1. Go to the Marine Debris Tracker website and download the CSV for your litter pick.

2. Open Google Earth on your computer

3. On your computer, open Google Earth Pro.

4. Click File > Import.

5. Browse to the location of the CSV file and open it.

6. In the box that appears, next to Field Type, choose Delimited.

7. Next to Delimited, choose Comma.

8. Use the preview pane to ensure your data has imported correctly and click Next.

9. Next to "This dataset does not contain latitude/longitude information," leave the box unchecked.

10. Select the fields in your spreadsheet that contain the latitude and longitude data and click Next.

11. Click Finish. Google Earth begins geocoding your data.

12. To use a style template, click Yes.

13. Click OK.

14. Create a new style template, or use a previously generated template.

20 minute village litter pick. The red line shows the route and the circles are all litter pick up points.

You should now have all the items you collected, following the path you took. You can also draw a route and measure it using the rule tool in Google Earth, as I have done with the red line here.

Another very cool feature is that you can add images to the litter points to show photos of what was found, where and when.

You can also share your KML file so others can look at your Google Earth litter pick route and see what you found and where.

Village Litter Pick KML 14022021
Download KMZ • 20.39MB

If you prefer good old paper and pen, then the Marine Conservation Society survey sheet is more than adequate and works fine for inland litter picks as well as beach cleans.

When completed, fill out a summary sheet. Don’t submit it to MCS though unless it was actually done on a beach.

You can track your route and progress using an exercise app such as Runkeeper.

Keep Scotland Beautiful also has a handy survey form. I could not find one for England so please let me know if you come across one.

At the end, I produce a summary sheet along with images as an ‘evidence pack’ and send it to whoever I think will listen. Parish Council, District Council, local papers, local social media - anywhere you think will make people wake up and listen.

Why not let us know how you get on. Have you done a beach clean or litter pick recently? How did it go and what did you find? Where did you send the results?

We would love to hear from you!

Our Village litter pick gallery. A huge thank you to Redd Moon for her company, enthusiasm and bravery in these litter picks!

About the author

Christine Grosart is a Paramedic, working offshore mainly on diving vessels.

She started beach cleans around 2011 and has gone on to be a trustee, secretary, instructor and underwater photographer for the charity Ghost Fishing UK.

She wrote the first training course for scuba divers to remove lost ghost nets, in the world.

In 2020 she became a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society for her work with Ghost Fishing UK as well as her cave diving exploration.

In the same year she was included in the BBC Radio 4 Women's Hour Power List.


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