#hatelitter, it’s an art

Artist at work installing on site

When someone drops litter, they’re telling you they don’t care. They don’t care about you, they don’t care about me, they probably don’t even care about themselves and they certainly don’t care about the environment.

The mentality that drives people to chuck stuff out of vehicles, cast packaging and wrappers aside while strolling along, talking loudly into their phones, or collect poo from the backsides of their pooches, bag it up and leave it dangling from a tree branch or on a wall for others to find is beyond me.

This reckless behaviour results in our paths, parks, woods and roadsides rustling with wrappers and discarded plastic bottles. At best, it looks terrible, at worst, it’s a danger to wildlife who may eat it or get trapped, or humans who will eventually find a diluted version in their drinking water, for some, they’ll be getting their own back, but unfortunately will have given it to the rest of us too.

A couple of years ago, Leeds City Council started a #onepieceoflitter campaign. The idea was to challenge people to pick up one piece of litter a day. I liked the idea of that, everyone can do it, everyone can make a difference. The more I picked up, the angrier I got about the thoughtlessness of litter louts.

While I was out running, I started picking up litter, bringing home anything I could sensibly carry then disposing of it in the recycle bin wherever possible. I didn’t know it at the time, but there already was an international litter-picking-up movement, known as plogging, which started in Sweden. I’m now proud to call myself a plogger.

I knew that sooner or later I’d have to make some sort of protest, but the usual mechanisms such as writing to my MP, or signing a petition don’t have impact on people’s behaviour and that’s what’s needed. It’s already an offence to drop litter, so the threat of a fine isn’t enough to deter people. So I thought about art, I love art, it reaches the heart and soul, it challenges, it provokes and it looks good. That’s it, I said to myself and the cat sleeping on my computer, I’ll do some rubbish art.

I usually run off-road and love my local woods in Calverley, they are beautiful woods, managed by Leeds City Council and including West Wood, an ancient woodland owned by the Woodland Trust. So why the hell do folk drop litter – and worse? It’s not over-run with the stuff, but there’s enough to spoil it for the rest of us. I plogged many a bagful.

I’d just completed a mosaic for the bedroom fireplace and wanted to do more, it’s very satisfying to make your own jigsaws with coloured glass, though no-one can go around the house barefoot any more. My first thought was to use bits and pieces from my plogging hoard in the mosaic, but that seemed to be saying that the litter had some sort of aesthetic appeal in itself and that’s just not true. Plus it’s stinky.

The last time these nine mosaics will be seen together! L-R, cigarette butts, plastic can holder, plastic bottles, poo bag hanging from a tree (seriously), #hatelitter, poo, drinks can, food package, drinks bottle

From there, I hit on the idea of producing a series of nine pieces representing litter I’d plogged, or as in the case of dog poo, just tutted at. I’ve now hidden them in the woods, where they may or may not be found, a bit like the litter they picture. Someone may find them and take them away – great, I hope they pick up some litter too. Someone else may see them and ignore them, do they do that when they see litter? Others may destroy them, I don’t mind, so long as they clear them away. I’m going to visit them from time to time and then remove them in a year, just so I’m not leaving litter.

I hope people who find them enjoy them, but most of all, I hope it’ll make them think about the impact of litter on everyone’s lives.

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Plogging along

Plogged in the sports centre car park.

It may be my age, but I’m getting more than a little grumpy about litter. What is it with people just dumping stuff out of the car window as they drive along? Or dropping bottles and wrappers because they can’t be bothered to carry them home after consuming their sugary contents? And dog poo bags. Don’t get me started on dog poo bags and the baffling habit of dangling them from tree branches.

I wept, long, deep sobs with real tears, as I watched the last sobering episode of David Attenborough’s Blue Planet 2. You know, the one where we’re killing the planet with all our plastic and making the Disney movie Wall E  a prophecy.

I’ve been plogging for some time now, picking up any litter I can carry while out on my runs, the bending down and standing up is now part of my workout, plus it’s great exercise for the facial muscles as I turn my nose up at the smell and dirt and in general disgust that people can be so thoughtless. It’s not much, but if we all do it, then it’ll make a tidy difference to our world.

Plogging is a real environmental running movement, and we have the Swedes to thank it, they even carry plastic bags, gloves and grabby-picky-uppy things. I guess being from Yorkshire and a rock climber, I’m not squeamish about a bit of muck, so it’s bare hands then soap and water for me.

I do most of my plogging in the local Calverley Woods, where there’s not a great deal of litter, so any that is dropped is noticeable. The main culprits seem to be drinkers of Red Bull and softer drinks in plastic bottles, along with fast food wrappers and, of course, dog walkers and their poo bags, empty and full, cold and warm…

The other day I even plogged in the sports centre car park on my way to circuit training. Empty screenwash bottles, 20 metres from the bin. They’d topped up their washer bottle then just left the container. Unbelievable.

I am so outraged, I’ve made a plogging-themed mosaic art installation, which will be launched soon to Noel and Heidi and no critical acclaim. Heidi’s fellow feline Socks Akers has declined the launch invitation, he has some serious sleeping to do. Heidi is only coming on the promise of treats. Watch out for the arty news soon, in the meantime, I’ll carry on plogging.

Heidi sits on my art installation. Typical.


Noel has a new superhero name


Noel has a new superhero name, he’s not that keen on it, but it does what it says on the tin, so that’s that. He is Rubbish Man, he has the powers to locate, pick up and dispose of any rubbish scattered around the countryside as he runs or walks. These are very special powers and may save the world from destruction, but in a very understated and long-term kind of way.

Take today for example, we were walking in the Peak District, up on Bamford Edge . Whether we’re running or walking, I pack a small carrier bag to pick up litter, not all litter, and certainly not dog poo bags which are often dangling from branches in the woods, but wrappers, plastic bottles, little things, but I am not a superhero, I’m just a plogger.

Noel went one step further. Not for him a little carrier bag, he donned his superhero outfit, which bears more than a passing resemblance to his usual outdoor gear, he’s  a modest superhero, and set about picking up Serious Litter.

The Bamford moors, much like most of the rest of the Peak District at the moment, are tinder dry, it wouldn’t take much for the whole lot to go up in flames. So what sort of idiot takes a bottle of gin up to this beautiful place, drinks the contents and dumps the bottle where it can catch a few rays and start a fire? Did the same idiot leave a nearly-full container of barbecue fuel next to it? I assume a different idiot left a five-litre waterbottle. Idiots.

Fortunately Rubbish Man was on the moors, casting caution to the north-north-west wind and fearlessly scooping up the offending items with his bare hands and carrying them all the way to the nearest bin, which wasn’t very near at all, but he is Rubbish Man, he has super rubbish-carrying powers and I’m very proud of him.

Meanwhile I’ll just carry on plogging. My mate Bev and I are doing our bit in the village by picking up litter while we’re out and about. Leeds City Council has given us bags and will collect them in September on World Cleanup Day. We’re hoping there won’t be much, but with Rubbish Man around, there’s no chance of that.

Litter, what a load of rubbish!

One run’s worth of rubber bands and plastic can holders. Grrrr.

I hate litter, it’s rubbish, lots and lots of rubbish dropped or deliberately thrown by careless, thoughtless people. At best, if that’s an appropriate word to use, it’s untidy. At worst, it can kill, strangling animals and birds, leeching into the oceans, starting fires or poisoning us. Oh bloody hell, I hate litter.

Each Saturday before our parkrun, we clear up cans, bottles, glasses, cardboard and even carrier bags from the entrance to the park, all dumped under a bench which is within staggering distance of a bin. On runs or walks through our local woods there’s wrappers and papers, plus bags  of something brown and smelly hanging from trees, what’s that all about?

I don’t run on roads very often, not enough mud for my liking, plus there’s bloody litter everywhere. What possesses people to throw stuff out of their car windows? If I wasn’t such a terrible thrower, I’d scoop it up and throw it back in, let’s see how they like it them, in their neat and tidy cars, eh?

Last week was the last straw. With Noel on the point of death from a rare and virulent form of cold virus that left him bedbound and incapable of anything other than updating his social media and calling out feebly for ‘tea’, ‘coffee’ and occasionally ‘chocolate’, I had to run on my own. It can be lonely in the woods, so I broke with tradition and headed towards Pudsey on the road.

Within a few steps, I spotted a rubber band on the pavement. Picturing a hedgehog or other creature coming to a nasty end if they crawled through it and got caught up, I did what I thought was a stylish swoop, gathering and pulling it over my hand with one move. Hey, it was so stylish, I’m thinking of incorporating it into my cross training.

Over the next 11km, I had the chance to practice this time and again and I spotted more, presumably dropped by posties or other delivery people along with those horrid can-holder-togetherers, the joined circles made from tough plastic so four hedgehogs can be stuck at a time, ooo I was so cross! Fortunately for my training regime, fury fuelled my running and I kept up a reasonable pace when I was swooping.

By the end of my run, I had ten rubber bands and two can-holder-togetherers. I’ve started making a ball out of the bands and intend to bounce it off the walls of Royal Mail’s Leeds HQ when it’s big enough. That’ll show ’em. I’ll catch it of course and make sure it’s properly disposed of.

Next month Keep Britain Tidy will launch the Great British Spring Clean , encouraging people to get outside and tidy up. Why wait until then, I say! Personally, I’ve made a promise to myself that I’ll pick up as much litter as I can carry home when I’m on a run. Added to that is the general picking-up when I’m out and about, and of course each Saturday before parkrun. What about you? #GBSpringClean #CleanLeeds

#1pieceofrubbish in the bin

How hard can it be to put the litter in the bin?

It’s not far from the office park where I work to the local shops, enough for a lunchtime constitutional, or a run to the nearby metropolis of Cross Gates. It’s not exactly a beautiful part of the city, but it’s Yorkshire, so it’s better than most. There’s only one thing to spoil it and that’s litter.

Where the hell does it all come from? Why are sandwich wrappers, plastic bottle and bags of dog poo strewn across the neat verges, within throwing distance of the many litter bins the council has strapped to lamp posts? Who walks their dog around an office park anyway?

It all came to a head when I came a cropper tripping over to Sainsbury’s for a packet of chocolate teacakes to see us through our team meeting. I was multitasking, striding ahead and phoning home to make sure Noel was getting on with his tasks, he always appreciates my input into his day, when my foot slipped and I was airborne. Before I knew it, I was no longer airborne, I had landed in the hedge, next to a half-eaten egg and cress sandwich and a sparrow-pecked bourborn biscuit. It felt like I was seated on a privet throne, surveying my subjects who seemed rather surprised to see me there, though not as surprised as I was.

To the distant calls of  Noel’s ‘hello?’, ‘hello?’, I found myself being helped from the hedge, which, you’ll be pleased to hear, was undamaged, and set back on my feet. I’d slipped on an elephant-sized pile of dog poo, and fortunately missed any further mess when the hedge broke my fall. The same couldn’t be said of my phone, it was sitting in the poo. It’s the only time I’ve been grateful for litter, because there were a couple of paper towels blowing in the wind, so I used them to clean up the phone and reply to Noel, who was first sympathetic and them amused, well, who wouldn’t be?

At work we’ve all been encouraged to make a pledge to be green, that’s in the environmental, not Hulk sense. My pledge is to pick up one piece of litter every time I head to the office, following the campaign currently being run by Leeds City Council. The idea being  that if everyone picked up just one piece of litter, we’d be litter free in no time. I’m really happy to to that, though I have added a caveat, I’ll pick up any litter and put it in the nearby bin, but the dog poo stays where it is, even if it is still in the bag (ewwww).