Community big spring clean

Posted in Community, Litter on Mar 15, 2021.

On a very windy Saturday morning, around fifty community volunteers in the Winterbourne area left their houses with bags, gloves and litter grabbers and meticulously tried to clean every bit of litter from our roads, lanes and parks, no matter how big or small. The routes had been divided and allocated in the week before and as more volunteers came forward, the area of cleaning widened. The team included people of all ages, veteran and new litter pickers who were keen to clean our streets and help the local environment.

In the afternoon I cleared an area of the Hooper's Field cut-through and was really saddened by the sheer quantity of dog poo bags that had been thrown into the bushes. There was a bin within 50 metres of where I did my litter pick. Altogether the teams of volunteers collected a huge amount of rubbish from around Winterbourne, and the whole place looks so much better now. Let's hope it stays that way!" - Penny

The parish of Winterbourne is a semi-rural village with a strong community, but like many other villages, it suffers from littering. The litter originates from many sources:

  • Casual littering from passing traffic (Winterbourne and it's neighbouring areas include multiple rat runs)
  • Packaging from local food takeaway establishments (often dumped at lay bys)
  • Fly tipping
  • Smoking and drink packaging, consumed in parks and social areas
  • Recycling waste from roadside collections
  • Dog waste

There are members of the community who regularly sweep for litter in their area, but even a one mile route can fill a large bag, even when done regularly. During the first covid lock down in 2020, Winterbourne and Frome Valley Environmental Group (WEG) acquired litter grabbers, hoops and bags from the council and offered them to members of the community to add to the local team of village cleaners. It was hoped that with more community members visibly clearing litter, it would discourage others to drop it.

I joined the litter pickers after seeing an article in one of the free monthly magazines. I wanted to help. I abhor seeing litter around and try to pick it up if it’s convenient. It felt good to be part of a large team which had achieved much over the week. - Pearl

Fast forward back to March 2021, as the recent lock down was starting to lift, the WEG weekend litter pick was a chance to clear the streets for a weekend and show the community, the council and the producers of the litter just how much litter is out there. It was also a chance for the community to come together and give back to areas that had been their had given them freedom, tranquillity and escape during an unusual and isolating year. The response was so good, it was necessary to request further equipment from the local council who quickly delivered them to us on Friday afternoon so we could distribute them around the village. The routes covered Winterbourne, Winterbourne Down, Hambrook, Moorend, Kendleshire, Watleys End and even some of Frampton Cotterell!

"I am so impressed with the huge turn-out for our Big Spring Clean. Over 40 members of the community took part and cleared tonnes of litter from our streets and paths. Keeping Winterbourne and our rural environment clean is all our responsibility. And others clearly agree as we have had 26 new members join the group over the weekend! We'll be contacting the packaging firms behind the litter as our next aim is to stop waste at the source. We welcome help from the wider community, so if you are keen to leave our world in a better state then get in touch!" - Laura (WEG Chair)

Pickers were coordinated via Whatsapp group and brought their full bags to the HQ at All Saints Church Hall in Winterbourne Down, where the Church had been very kind by providing their outdoor space. Most pickers left their bags in a safe place when filled and sent the locations so others could pick up many bags in one run, reducing car journeys. Spring time is perfect for litter picking as the brambles and verges are sparse and it's possible to access areas that are overgrown by the summer. Pickers found ancient litter buried in soil and litter in trees and ditches. Large instances of fly tipping were discovered, not usually visible to passing traffic, and duly reported for later collection.

The amount of litter on the streets of this country are a national disgrace, so when the opportunity came to take part in our village’s litter pick we were only too pleased to volunteer. I was amazed at the amount collected, but so pleased to walk around Winterbourne later and see how good the village was looking. I think we will have an ongoing National litter problem unless we break the generational link. - Alan

At the HQ, large bags provided by a local farmer were arranged in line and areas denoted for specific items. The plan was to separate the bags into waste by large producer (Coca Cola, Pepsi, Costa, etc) with any smaller producers and unidentifiable waste split into hard plastic, card and paper, metal and glass. Volunteers came and went throughout the day, helping with the separation process. The wind was very gusty and despite some shelter behind the hall, it was immediately obvious that smaller packaging, such as wrappers and crisp packets would be almost impossible to sort, so plans were downgraded to focus on a smaller number of categories.

My 2 teenagers and I joined the litter pick because we wanted to help look after our beautiful local area, which we have been so grateful to be able to access from our doorstep during all the lockdowns. It was very satisfying to remove lots of rubbish from these locations, some of which had clearly been there for several years. - Liz

Identifying producers sounds easy, but many large companies own many smaller brands. The plan to use signs and lists was thwarted by the wind, but most of the volunteers were able to get to grips with the big producers quickly. After dodging a late hailstorm, the litter was separated and a huge number of bags of non recyclable waste had been separated from the large bags and smaller piles. Once documented, the producer piles were added to the plastic, glass and can bags and all of the litter was moved to the main car park for South Gloucestershire Street Care to collect for processing early in the week.

We had no facilities to weigh the bags, but the final counts from the day demonstrated an impressive haul:

Two large builders bags of hard plastic, most of which should be recyclable into a lower grade plastic. This plastic would have persisted in the environment for around 450 years or until the year 2470! Much of it was found in rural locations and some was pulled from the soil. Many of these bottles are blown into our rivers and taken out to sea to join the 8 million pieces of plastic each day and 12 million tons of plastic added to our oceans each year (

One large builders bag of cardboard and paper. We hope that much of this can be pulped and turned into new paper products.

Two large builders bags, half filled with glass bottles. This glass is 100% recyclable and will become new glass bottles. If the government introduced a deposit return scheme, many of these bottles would not have been littered, causing risk to people and wildlife when broken.

One large builders bag filled with aluminium drinks cans. In the wild, these cans will slowly decompose over 250 years, causing risks to wildlife as they do. They can be very easily recycled though and could be back on the shelf in under two months! Aluminium requires more energy (and therefore CO2e) to initially create, but can then be recycled infinitely with less energy. We have plans to trade this aluminium and fund tree planting with the proceeds.

One large builders bag of large items, such as a food blender, a front grill of a Honda, hub caps,and various car parts, mostly hard plastics.

One medium sized bag of steel nitrous oxide canisters. We recovered hundreds of these which we'll also sell for scrap metal to fund trees.

Forty-two large bin bags of non-recyclable waste including balloons, soft plastic, dog poo bags and non recyclable plastic.

I joined WEG when the group first set up. My aim was to target the major litter problem in our village and this was better done collectively. I strongly believe that we are the ones that need to change our behaviour to make our planet a better place to live in. For the future we need to take responsibility by reducing the waste we produce, recycling as much as possible and reusing goods as best we can. Education starts at home. Children need to be set good examples. - Sheelagh

Every piece of litter we recovered from our area could have ended up buried or broken up into tiny fragments, which would persist in our soil and plants. The considerable ecological cost of litter takes its toll on local communities like ours. Decades of public messaging on litter prevention have been largely ineffectual and with a dramatic reduction in council and police funding, litter crime enforcement is challenging. Local communities are the current front line in local litter management with strong support from council departments.

There is much to celebrate about the efforts of our amazing community team, but anyone who does this regularly knows that the litter returns quickly. We do however have some ideas about how we can start to turn the tide as a community that we'd like to share and work on with other communities. This will be the focus of a forthcoming WEG blog article.

The oddest thing we found was a frying pan on the rural side of the route and an awful lot of dog poo bags. I think taking my kids out to do this has helped them understand why we shouldn't litter and they are as confused as the adults about the irresponsible way people behave with their rubbish. So many people spoke to us and said how great it was to see people trying to improve the area and this really helps us to feel positively about the actions we are taking! We'll definitely carry on, my kids are addicted, not sure the dog liked it though. - Sharon

It was a rewarding day to be part of such an enthusiastic and dedicated local team and we're hoping to arrange another community litter sweep in the late summer 2021. Please get in touch if you want to help. Join our Facebook group and follow us on Twitter We have many local projects in progress and planned if you would like to get more involved!

I’ve been a member of WEG for a while as I’m very interested in our environment/ sustainability/ climate. I often litter pick weekly around where I live. Most litter was drink cans/ drinks bottles and crisp packets! My pet hate is dog poo and litter and this is easily avoidable. It’s great that we have made our community so much tidier. - Alice


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