Why do we volunteer to pick up litter?

George Monck from CleanupUK

As the first Guest Blogger on the new LitterAction blog, it struck me as a good idea to go back to basics and to question why we all do what we do when we get involved in litter-picking. And, while I am pondering this question, I have to say that I feel an overwhelming sense of admiration for all the great work that you and your fellow litter-gatherers do – you are an inspiration to everyone who knows about you and what you do and we here at LitterAction firmly believe that the UK’s litter problem simply won’t get solved unless, like you, we all get involved and play our part.

So – why do we do it ? Well, the obvious answer is that we hate the sight of litter spoiling the look of where we live. That may be the only reason that you pick up litter and, if that’s the case, that’s great. Litter does spoil the look of places and, as CPRE’s President Bill Bryson so aptly says : “this country is beautiful – but only from the ankles up”.

But why else do we go out collecting litter ? Some of us enjoy the physical exercise and the fresh air that we can experience while we litter-pick. Yes – it’s a great way of exercising and also achieving something really valuable at the same time.

Others do it as they want their fellow residents to see that dropping litter isn’t a good idea. By being seen out there picking up other people’s rubbish does indeed get the message across to many that they shouldn’t litter and that pride in one’s area is important. And, of course, litter-picking is a great way to educate young (and not so young) people as to why they should put their rubbish in the bin.

Then there is the issue that “litter leads to more litter”. Keep Britain Tidy’s research has shown that people tend to litter more when there is litter already there, that the presence of litter almost gives people permission to drop more litter. So the logical answer to this is to make sure that we keep our neighbourhood free of litter so that there is no incentive for people to drop

But it’s not only more litter that litter itself attracts. It has also been shown that the presence of litter indicates that no one cares about the area (and, more worryingly, that people don’t care about each other) and so criminals think that they will have an easier time if they focus their efforts on that area. Yes – it has been shown that litter attracts crime to a neighbourhood, so that’s a pretty good reason for keeping one’s area free of litter and so feeling a bit safer.

Finally, there is the social benefit of getting together with your neighbours to clean up your area. So many of you do that and enjoy a cup of tea or a barbeque after your hard work. It is such a valuable and satisfying experience. And one thing that we have found with work that we are doing in some of the less affluent areas of England, that community cleanups really can bring a community together. Have a think about this comment from a resident in east London : “The people I met [on the cleanup] are very friendly and I now know that there are very good people in my area”. Wow – that’s a pretty powerful result from what we may have thought is just a simple local cleanup.

So – whatever your reason for wanting to get together with your friends and your neighbours to clean up your area, good on you !

And do please leave your comments on what your reasons are for litter-picking and keeping your area clean and tidy.

George Monck

LitterAction and




  1. Great reasons to be out picking up that litter!
    Another reason for me is that litter presents a danger to wildlife, pets and us humans. Living by the sea I’m all too aware of how litter that makes its way into the water can pose a death threat to marine life and birds if they see it floating in the water, think it is food and eat it. Thats why you can often see me and my dog running up and down sand dunes collecting stray plastic bags, crisp packets, balloons and chinese lanterns!
    Broken glass bottles are a nightmare for beach users especially kids and dogs who charge around enjoying themselves, and a nightmare for litter pickers to pick up.
    And another reason which maybe my fellow pickers might agree with is that its addictive?! Once you start its almost impossible to walk past litter and not do something about it!

  2. Andrew Edgington

    I enjoy litter picking because it is one thing you can do that actually makes a rapidly achieved and positive difference to your local area. In so many areas of life one has a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. With litter picking you can SEE the difference straight away, and when others moan about the state of the roadsides you can say ‘Well, I do something about it!’

  3. I litter pick very regularly and am so glad lots more people are becoming aware and hands on . It makes an immediate difference to your surrroundings and gives me a real feel good factor.
    What I don’t understand is why alot of people think I am the freak for what I do, but not the people that throw the rubbish out of their cars !!

  4. I don’t think you’re a freak and I think most people actually appreciate what litter picking volunteers are doing. I was thanked by several people the other day while I was doing it.

  5. I live in a pretty housing estate next to a man-made lake. The lake has lots of wildlife frogs, herons, swans and ducks. The litter terrible around the edge of the lake. The lake is a prime dog walking and school route. The first day I started to pick litter, I have actually found FIVE empty supermarket bread loaf plastic bags floating on the lake’s edge. People have decided to feed the ducks and then also chuck in the plastic bread bag as well!! The reason I am doing it, is cos I can’t stand the sight anymore.

  6. All of these reasons are excellent reasons why one should feel so compelled to pick up litter! This is the first time I’ve ever read that crime rate is directly related to the amount of litter in a given area, which is a theory I have developed on my own as of recently. There is a business plaza in my town that I would run laps behind, while occasionally picking up trash along the way. Well, I eventually stopped running back there and the litter started to get worse and worse. Next thing I knew, there were gang tags/names written in graffiti/spray paint on a bunch of the trash bins in the back of this plaza, which led to my litter and crime rate theory.
    As a possible solution for this business plaza, I plan to introduce a new service at our small company, Big Greenie, that will include periodically picking up litter around businesses. Thanks!

  7. I think one of the main reasons people join litter pick up campaigns is because naturally they like to keep it clean. Those who throw away litter and have no second thoughts about it will not go out and pick up someone else’s rubbish unless they are made to do so.

  8. I wish to start litter picking at various sites in my locality. It will be a large undertaking but hopefully worth the effort.
    My concern is will individuals seeing me do this drop more in spite. has anyone seen evidense of this.
    I would like hear of this or any other comments.

  9. Does anyone wan to volunteer litter pick with me in Partington, Manchester?

  10. Well;the riverside area from West Cowes to Newport has taken several months to declutter and it is looking good, there are still some bushes that need clearing out, but it will have to wait until winter as there is to much foliage at the moment, nesting birds
    Foxes etc.
    All in all though, the area has improved a lot and people would appear to be getting a lot better about leaving rubbish strewn around the countryside.

  11. It something you can do to improve the area where you live. People talk to you and you hope people will feel guilty about dropping it. Also gives you a feel good factor. I hate all the dog ends at the kerb side where people have chucked their fags out the window

  12. I’m so glad to see the comments of fellow litter pickers. It makes me feel less lonely in this peculiar occupation. I agree with many of the comments, such as we can make an immediate improvement to our environment. I live in a beautiful part of Devon and was completely perplexed about why anyone would actually drop litter in such a beautiful area, including down by a lovely river which meanders its way through our local town. I noticed how cross I was getting about the litter, every time I walked into town, so one day I just decided to do something about it and started clearing up one small section at a time. It is really starting to work. Areas where I have already cleared do get some additional pesky litter thrown down (I’m sure we’ve all experienced that). But now that I’ve done a “deep clean” of a small area, I find it relatively easy to pick up new litter and keep it litter-free. I intend to carry on, doing a section at a time, until my entire walk into town is (relatively) litter-free. I have also started to attract some local interest and support; so all very positive.

  13. George!!!
    This was copied over in a forum on Facebook I’m part of
    Litter picking while walking 1000 miles

    Love what you write

    I do this -yes even in Finland where the problem is less acute than in the U.K. – because I want to keep my adopted land as clean, tidy and beautiful as I can.

    My pet peeves are cigarette packets … (they seem to be discarded all the time often just metres from a bin) and plastic lids from hot drinks /fast food cups. Grrr.
    But in Finland because of our excellent deposit return scheme on all soft drink beer cider and also wine bottles and cans … I rarely have to pick those up.

    Thank you for taking litter seriously long before others did in the U.K. you always did have a pioneering spirit.

    Ps I’d like to see packaging reduced at every level … just think we wrap toilet paper in plastic, and the. Put those smaller packs in more plastic … and the whole shipment is probably shrinkwrapped on the pallet too.

    Why can’t toilet paper backs be made of paper ..or better still sold in a cardboard box?

  14. Nice idea but I have been asked to volunteer to help do some litter picking. Question I have is… isnt this why we pay council tax etc and have all the offenders doing communitity service disappeared??

Leave a Reply to Lorna Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Malcare WordPress Security