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Litter Picking Tips for The Leave It Better Community

Guest blogger Rach from Make Litter Picking Cool talks all things Litter Picking and suggests the best tools and approach to help us Pick Where We Park.

So you want to pick up litter and improve the image of Camper Vanners across the country and maybe even the world??? YOU ARE AWESOME! And you will want to be prepared!

Hi! My name is Rachel and I have had a blog/instagram page called Make Litter Picking Cool for about 2 and a half years now. I’m an ambassador for Keep Britain Tidy, have run a few group litter picks/beach cleans and have also run a couple of fair stands to promote litter picking. I’ve known Izzy and Laurie of the Camper Dreamin fam for over a decade and we even went on our first wild camping night in our van (a VW Caddy Maxi converted ex British Gas van) with them, to beautiful Wales!

I used to be the freest of litter pickers (as you’ll see in the photos at the end), I’d pick up stuff with my hands when I saw it, chuck it in the bin and just wash my hands after. But times have changed, the threat (and/or paranoia) of Covid is everywhere and you might not have the most thorough of facilities to properly wash your hands after touching something nasty.

For this reason, I no longer recommend just picking up litter unless you’re PPE’d up, ugh extra effort right? Gloves might be a step too far for a quick clean-up of a park up spot, it also means you’re creating rubbish while picking it up. But if you’d feel more comfortable with extra hand protection, you can get good quality gardening gloves or trade gloves (you can buy them really cheap at B&Q), and of course you can carry disposable gloves if that gives you more confidence. Who am I to tell you how to protect yourself?!

But the reason you’re really here, is to find out which pickers you should pick! I have used all kinds of pickers, except for the stabby ones you see in American movies about prison, so I think I’ve finally found the pair that won’t break easy.

My first thought was that a pair of foldable pickers would be amazing!!! Wrong. They, of course, broke. Hard pass on them, they may take up less space, but once they break they’re just wasted. I’ve used the standard pair of grabby, trigger pickers on many organised litter picks, we gave out about 50 for the Board Masters beach cleans and a lot of them came back broken, the mechanism stopped working or the grabby bit snapped, meaning you were basically just left with a stick.

So I looked around at what some of the more successful litter picking legends used, the one I looked up to the most was Wayne Dixon off of Wayne and Koda fame. Wayne is walking around the whole of the UK coast with his gorgeous husky Koda, picking up litter along the way and he’s also an ambassador for Keep Britain Tidy (I’ve totes met the dog, and him, but the dog though, so cuddly and fluffy!!). He uses what I would call tong pickers and from what I could tell, he’d never had to replace them and they’d done a LOT of picking.

I managed to find a cheap pair on Amazon that were left over from the ‘Clean Lagos’ project, presumably in Lagos, but they have since sold out. I did actually find the Clean Lagos Initiative on Twitter and DM’d to ask where they’d got them made but never got a reply *sad face*.

Luckily though there are other kinds of tong pickers available on Amazon. The pair I’ve been recommending since mine sold out, are here.

Obviously these are a bit of an investment at just over £25 a pair, BUT there is an alternative option that also allows you to fit in a few more squats! The basic premise of why the tong pickers don’t break is that they have really got anything to break, they work the same way your kitchen tongs work…see where I’m going here?

I have often recommended a set of kitchen tongs for people with children who want to pick, but who don’t want to feel responsible for looking after a pair they’ve loaned from the council (which you can do, your council should be able to lend you litter picking equipment, but I don’t know how long they let you borrow them for). There are many silicone tipped kitchen tongs that will also be easier to store in your van than standard litter pickers. It just means if you’re not 3ft tall, you’ll likely have to bend and squat more, they’re more just hand extenders! Just be careful not to mix them up with your actual kitchen tongs. Nobody wants their dinner to have a hint of slug soaked Red Bull. Nope, nope, nope.

Next, I guess we should talk about disposal. I think everyone will have different ways of managing their waste while they’re van life-ing it up. For me personally, I try to decant anything that comes in packaging into jars and Tupperware’s so I don’t have to carry as much rubbish with me when we’re camping. We also tend to carry paper bags for waste as we don’t actually buy plastic bin bags anymore, or we use various packaging as bin bags, like salad bags, bread bags, etc. It depends how much litter is there when you arrive at your park up and if there’s a bin nearby, but I’d recommend carrying bags (whichever you happen to have at home) with you for the purpose of picking so you’re not shuttling back and forth between the litter and the bin, or resorting to putting the rubbish in your footwell until you’ve found one! If, like me, you get bombarded with charity bags through your letterbox, these are also great to reuse if you aren’t intending to have a cupboard clear out. I have also relied many, many times on our dog poo bags! (the new ones!) 😊

One more point to make is, it’s important when we’re out travelling not to burden the communities with excess rubbish problems, that’s obviously not our aim and that’s why you’re here! :D If a bin is full and overflowing and you have a bag of litter to add to it (potentially as well as your own rubbish from your stay), maybe keep hold of it until you find another bin that’s not full. Or if you’re on your way home, keep hold of it so you can put it in your own bins, then you might be able to recycle some of the cleaner bits too! The last thing you want is to leave your bag of litter next to a mound of rubbish and for seagulls to ravage it and undo all your amazing efforts.

Health and Safety PSA: I would hope that you wouldn’t come across these at your park ups, if you do I’d probs recommend immediately moving, but IF you do find needles and syringes on your litter picks, it’s unfortunately better not to pick them up. For a few reasons but mostly because if you put them in a normal bin they could end up stabbing someone when they empty it. It is amazing that you are willing and wanting to help improve the reputation of the camper van community, help keep our countryside looking flawless and help save wildlife by picking up potential death traps, but try not to put yourself in danger while doing so. We need you healthy! 😃 If in doubt, just don’t pick it up. Instead, take a photo, put it on Instagram and we’ll all rage about it with you!

So thank you for reading my blog post of litter picking tips! The more people who are seen to be picking up litter, the cooler it looks and hopefully litter bugs will witness it and realise the error of their ways! And of course if locals see that sites are getting cleaner with every camper van that turns up, relationships and reputations can improve and that will make for better camping experiences for all of us.

Happy Picking and THANK YOU!

Follow Make Litter Picking Cool @makelitterpickingcool

Join the Leave It Better Community @leaveitbetterco

I will leave you with a few of my Litter Picking Greatest Hits from our travels in our van @VWMaxiPad (all pre-covid, when life was just that little bit more simple).


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