There have been lots of opportunities to spend quality time together as a family over the last 18 months, but one-to-one time with each child has been more difficult to come by. So we recently decided to revive it, and I asked the older one what he would like to do. “I’d like to do a litter pick, Mum,” he said – which surprised me, because I’d fully expected (and dreaded) a morning’s Fortnite tutorial.
There’s certainly no shortage of litter around here – there’s a lot of foot traffic from local schools, takeaways and supermarkets – but when I looked at litter picking stuff to buy on Amazon, I nearly choked on my coffee at the price, so I wondered if I could borrow some instead. I contacted our local MK councillor, Zoe Nolan; and she put me in touch with the Neighbourhood Action Group (NAG), who very helpfully furnished me with pickers, gloves, vests and special Serco bags to put out with the domestic rubbish on bin day. There were also some very useful guidelines on what to collect and what to leave.
Armed with our weapons against pollution, off we went on Sunday morning. Jan from the NAG had advised us to choose a circular route, so that our time and muscles were used most efficiently in finding rubbish, and carrying it home with us. So we picked a route going through a couple of underpasses (rich sources of discarded unpleasantness), past a supermarket and a couple of takeaways, through a little park, and up past school before home. This, I felt, would give us the best chance of clearing up some well-travelled walkways and give him something to be proud of when coming to school on Monday.
Once we’d found the best way of wielding the pickers and bending them to our will, we were away. Most of what we found was the cast-off waste from takeaways – pizza boxes, fish and chip wrappers, and plastic drinks bottles – the odd disposable facemask, sweet and crips wrappers, and lots and lots and LOTS of cigarette butts. The biggest mess to clear up was a pile of food rubbish, wrappers and bottles under a shelter near the playpark. I was relieved that we didn’t find anything too nasty, although one of the underpasses did have a nasty acidic reek to it, which spoke loudly to the excesses of a Saturday night – so we didn’t linger too long under that one!
After 90 minutes we’d collected two large bin bags full of litter, met several very appreciative locals who were keen to praise the young man for his initiative and community spirit (including his teacher, who’d turned up by chance at school for some quiet classroom time), and had a lovely sense of achievement. I think he was surprised by how much others did appreciate the effort he’d put in, and in particular the difference it made to an older lady who walks regularly through the underpasses. She said it was so much nicer to do that when there wasn’t mess and rubbish to worry about, and it made a real impression on him that he’d made a tangible improvement to a small aspect of someone’s life. I also posted about it on our local group, and he was staggered that he got so many thanks from locals that way, too.
It was a great thing to do. We got out and about, spent some productive time together, and got some exercise – as well as making our area look so much nicer than it did before we started – and it didn’t cost us a penny! A few days in and the mess has reappeared in places, which was only to be expected…but our boy was philosophical about it. “Some people really suck, but there are nice ones too – and we met some of them,” he said. He’s right, some people do suck – so I’m very proud that there are people like him in the world to balance them out. We’ll be joining some more of them on community litter picks in Milton Keynes in the future!