• Jonathan Gibbon

Picking up the positives of litter

Updated: Dec 16, 2021

As a volunteer litter picker, many people wonder why I'd want to pick up other people's rubbish. It is often seen as someone else's job ('the council', 'criminals' and so on) but a recent article I read suggested that 150,000 people litter pick in the UK every week! So what is it that drives this action?

It would be easy to get bogged down in the negatives of litter being prevalent in our country, and we'd obviously prefer there wasn't a need for it, but litter picking has many health and wellbeing benefits. These include:

  1. Boosting self-esteem and providing a purpose for being active outdoors, engaging with nature and your surroundings. This can improve both your mental and physical health.

  2. Improving the local environment for your community and wildlife.

  3. At a time when so many issues can seem too big for us to have an impact, it enables us to make a tangible difference.

  4. Allowing us to get our children involved, educating them and engaging them in the benefits of nature and environmental action. Children love spotting rubbish and picking it up with a 'grabber'; protecting animals is always a hit too!

  5. Creating or joining a local group can provide a social connection. Building a group also has a bigger impact on both physical collection and awareness that can drive behaviour change.

  6. It might help to ease some of the burden on local authorities, who may be able to fund other worthwhile initiatives with the money saved through volunteer action.

  7. In a world where much of the news we see is negative, it feels good to be part of a physical and online community where people can celebrate doing something positive!

Although I might not litter pick every week, I used to do it on my way home from the station some evenings when I worked in London. My wife and I then set up a local community litter picking group and we take our children for walks with the litter picking equipment where we live. We enjoy litter picking for all of the reasons above* and even took some equipment on holiday to do a beach clean before breakfast one morning.

Beach cleaning on holiday

But what if you have no desire to go and pick up other people's rubbish? The reason for writing this is not as a recruitment drive for litter picking, but to show that many activities that some see as negative or a bit odd can have great health and wellbeing benefits. The key is to look for the positive impacts - the gifts and opportunities - and the enjoyable elements of the activity.

Think of your most common personal or professional tasks and some necessary activities that you might not enjoy doing. If you look at them with a positive mindset and consider the purpose of the task and the wider system of stakeholders involved, what positives can you find to drive your energy? How can you justify the time you spend doing it and maximise the return? What benefits can you and others gain from the activity to boost your health and wellbeing?

It might also be beneficial to consider your hobbies and the activities you like doing. What is it about those activities you enjoy, and where can you bring some of those elements into your less enjoyable tasks? Give this some thought, then create yourself a new challenge to power up the positives of a daily chore or find a new activity to enjoy!

*Even though we enjoy it, we'd be happy to focus our efforts elsewhere. Please bin your rubbish or take it home with you!