Written by Laura Brown, Geography Student, Lancaster University 

Rubbish. It seems to be a problem that is hard to avoid in 21st century Britain and has become much of a fact of life. Whether it’s plastic pollution or overflowing waste disposal facilities, litter has been yet another victim of the Covid-19 pandemic. As more people have ventured out into the great British countryside, their litter has followed. This has been prevalent throughout the UK, but in my local area of northwest England, has particularly taken hold of cycle paths and local nature reserves.

When lockdown was introduced back in March, I found solace in the countryside, like many of my neighbours. As more time outdoors was permitted, more people took advantage, having picnics and socially distanced gatherings. Perhaps inevitably, once pristine areas started to look like the litter-filled alleyways you would see in urban or densely populated regions like Naples in southern Italy.

Naples Waterfront

I visited Naples in 2019, during “normal” times. Just a stone’s throw away from the illuminated bay and glitzy restaurants that line the waterfront, narrow alleyways were flooded with litter, so much so that pigeons and other birds had taken up residence. From plastic bottles and fast-food packaging, to the remnants of tourism experiences gone by, Naples was the moment I realised how common and disastrous litter was. Even in a beautiful, historic city, litter could not be stopped from tainting Naples.

Lancashire is a county known for its pretty villages and tranquil countryside, with areas such as the Forest of Bowland and the Fylde Coast. But of course, 2020 has been full of the unexpected and on my daily walks, litter was no exception.

I often walked the ‘Guild Wheel’, a cycle route in Preston, over 21 miles long, and popular amongst cyclists, tourists, and locals alike. The ‘Guild Wheel’ was one of my lockdown discoveries. I hadn’t spent much time there before, but as lockdown granted me more time in my local area, I began taking walks along the River Ribble, just one section of the 'Guild Wheel'.

The 'Guild Wheel' by Billy Matthews

This scenic part of the route is close to Preston Docks and is popular with cyclists stopping off for a well-earned break looking at the boats and yachts bobbing along the water. The more times I visited, the more I noticed the problem. Bins overflowing, plastic bottles tumbling into the murky water, McDonald’s packaging cradling the riverbank. All sorts of packaging could be seen.

Perhaps what is needed to prevent Lancashire and other areas suffering from litter is commitment. For the environment to be as pristine, litter-free and pure as it can be, more initiatives should encourage people to clean up their local area. One example is Ballot Bins in Scotland. In Edinburgh, these allow people to vote on fun questions using their cigarette butts.

Ballot Bins

This voting-by-bin initiative allows people to vote for one of two answers by placing their cigarette butts in slots. Summer or Winter? Batman or Superman? You can vote for your favourite.

This creative initiative shows that getting people interested and engaged in litter disposal can be good for our streets, but also fun and involving. For, as the Canal and River Trust state, if everyone picked up just one piece of litter every day, rivers and canals could be plastic-free within just one year.

That is surely a future we could all celebrate.