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Litter Picking for 250 Miles: Our Shocking Discoveries

Clarity Environmental is driven by its mission to be a good business doing good. The work and commitment to Clarity Cares is a great drive for us, as employees, and helps to direct our focus as to the changes we would like to see in the world.

Working within the packaging waste sector, our business comes into contact with many environmental issues and challenges, whether that is around legislation, recycling rates or packaging design and innovation. This has led our business to look more closely at how we can support environmental charities and engage with national and global issues.

Earlier this year, we were lucky to have Whale and Dolphin Conservation come to our offices after our donation to the #UrbanBeachClean initiative, which helps encourage litter picks in urban areas to ensure discarded litter doesn’t enter our waterways and end up in the ocean. The short time they spent with us was extremely informative, but also shocking. The volume of litter we managed to collect in an hour with the charity within a mile of our offices, in Brighton, was appalling.

After this experience we decided to embark upon our own litter picking mission. Run simultaneously to Keep Britain Tidys Great British Spring Clean, we set ourselves a mission to collectively cover the 250 miles from our office to Land’s End in one month, all while litter picking. A mammoth task for our 20 strong team. This was a challenge I couldn’t wait to get started on.

As it turns out, when you start looking for litter it is everywhere. Streets, parks, fields, you name it, we found a place to pick up litter. Unfortunately, there were few occasions we would return with positive feedback about the areas around us. In the first two weeks we had to report several fly tipping incidences to the council.

Slowly, we found patterns emerging. Bus stops; any bus stop without a bin provided was a hotspot for all manner of plastic litter and cigarette butts. Playgrounds, even with bins provided, seemed to attract packets of crisps. Along the sea front we found cyclists gel packs in large quantities. Junctions where traffic amassed were a nightmare for fast food wrappers and drinks cartons. The countryside is less well equipped for dog walkers than you may think, with hundreds of tied poo bags being left in fields, long grass and sometimes hung in trees.

Over the course of the challenge, we managed to cover 251.25 miles and spent over 80 hours cleaning our local area amassing 141.35kg of litter. That’s the equivalent of 9,400 empty cans, 25,500 plastic bags, 320,000 gum wrappers, 370,000 plastic straws, 700,000 individual sweet wrappers or 824,000 cigarette butts.

Although we would return laden with rubbish, we occasionally came back disheartened. We are extremely lucky to have our office located close to the sea, surrounded by the beautiful countryside of the South Downs, yet there wasn’t a location that was exempt from pieces of plastic. Whether left intentionally, or by accident, the magnitude of the problem took me by surprise.

Luckily, over the course of the month, we came across other groups inspired by the message to help clean up our streets and protect our environment. I’m a keen walker and so took part in the challenge over some weekends, picking litter near my house and, on one occasion, a 17-mile hike across the South Downs. Other volunteers, groups organised as part of the Keep Britain Tidy Campaign and sometimes just a considerate walker who would pocket the odd bit of litter were helping to make a difference but expressed their concern over the volumes and frequency in which they found discarded plastic bottles and wrappers.

I’m so proud of the amount we accomplished as a team, and the positive effect we had on our local environment but on a personal level it has highlighted the scale of the problem. Our beautiful landscape is covered in litter, and once you start looking for it, it becomes impossible to miss. A collective assessment of our personal behaviours, bin provisions and innovation in packaging and recycling all seem to be measures necessary to really make a move towards positive change.

As public concern grows over environmental issues, Clarity is addressing packaging, and its impact, for our packaging compliance members and have committed to Go Beyond Compliance. Support for businesses on how they can make their packaging more sustainable plus workshops, talks and panel events addressing current environmental legislation are all services we can provide to ensure our members are green enough to grow.

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