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Optimism for a cleaner, greener land

Optimism for a cleaner, greener land

Litter is not just a numbers game – it evokes so many emotions, from anger to despair. It also creates a barrier between people and places, stopping us connecting to our environment and feeling the joy and serenity that green spaces can inspire. It’s this joy, and love for their local patch, that inspires so many people to litter pick, and inspired hundreds to get involved in our first ever Green Clean.

The Green Clean was a nationwide litter pick to clean up the countryside and support our campaign for an all-inclusive deposit return system by counting the drinks bottles and cans we collected. This comes at a time when the government is considering the design of the deposit return system they committed to in March 2018, and when packaging and drinks companies, and some elements of the retail industry are furiously lobbying to water it down.

The results are in: at just 35 local litter picks we collected 11,212 drinks cans and bottles of all sizes and materials.

But it’s not the details of what we collected and counted that I want to talk about here. I want to share with you my biggest takeaway from the month, which was the incredible passion and drive from all involved to get a real solution to the problem of packaging lying all over our beautiful countryside.

Our Green Clean litter picks varied from mass, coordinated events involving a hundred volunteers to one-person bands, and everything in between. No matter the size of the event, people were not only willing to take time out of their days to pick up discarded rubbish, but to also sit and count the bottles and cans they’d picked up, which often involved rummaging through (gloves on of course, safety first!) bags of stinking litter.

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They did this because they know that getting a deposit system that includes every drinks can and bottle is the best solution to the waste crisis available to us now, despite continued opposition from the packaging and drinks industry. And they know we’re within touching distance of getting it.

Some of the groups involved in the Green Clean were regular litter pickers who’ve been working hard for years helping to improve their local areas. However, when we took the time to count what had been collected – and looked at how much of it was drinks cans and bottles, all laid out in front of us – they were shocked. To see every can and bottle laid out before you really highlights the absurdity of the situation we’re in: companies spend millions branding and marketing these products but get away with spending pennies on considering their disposal.


Despite the often dauntingly large piles of rubbish, our volunteers carefully sorted the cans and bottles into materials – glass, aluminium, plastic, Tetra Pak – and then into size orders so that we could record the details of what was found. This was an opportunity to be part of a nationwide campaign for a simple solution to litter, and there was a real sense of optimism that the government will seize this golden opportunity by creating a well-designed deposit system for England.

The feedback we’ve had since September from people and groups involved in the Green Clean has been heartening to read. One veteran litter picking group described how, before the event, they were beginning to become demoralised by the endless tide of rubbish finding its way into ditches, hedges, fields and waterways, but that being involved in this campaign, and knowing how close we are to solving a substantial part of the problem, has rejuvenated their commitment to the cause.

To give into lobbying from vested interests and create a half-baked system would be a missed opportunity for the government and our environment, but it would also let down thousands of people across the country who spend their free time trying to clear up the mess we’re in. They know that an inclusive deposit return system is the straightforward and effective solution we need – let’s get on with making it the best that we can.

There was a real sense of optimism that the government will seize this golden opportunity by creating a well-designed deposit system for England.

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