If you’re in Ripon, you could amble down Fisher Green Lane, with the allotments to one side and the River Ure to the other. It’s a nice enough little spot – just the place for a little stroll, or for walking the dog. It’s best not to keep your eyes on the ground though.
Because of the litter. Maybe it doesn’t look too bad at the moment. The nettles have done a sterling job of covering up old cigarette packets, discarded cups from McDonald’s (McDonald’s is a mile away for heaven’s sake), cans and bottles. But once you start to poke around, as the litter-picking squad from Plastic Free Ripon did on Sunday morning, this is what you’d find. Armed with high-viz gilets and grabs from the council, and protective gloves from Surfers against Sewage, we searched the verges and released litter from the nettles.
Twenty bags-worth of the stuff. On under 200 yards-worth of road. And that’s not counting the discarded excavator bucket from a small digger, the broken glass and a selection of planks.
We could be busy 24/7. But we’re volunteers and we can’t do that. It would be nice to think that people watching us working away might be encouraged to join us, or to think about whether they themselves are litter-louts. In fact we had fun together. And ate cake. And fruit donated by Brian-with-the-fruit-and-veg-stall. But it would still be better not to need to do it at all.
It was on a day out in Sitges near Barcelona that I had my light-bulb moment. It was a gloriously sunny January day, and we had the beach almost to ourselves: a clean, sandy and utterly unpolluted beach. Here it is.
And yet …… I took it into my head to spend just five minutes having my own personal Plastic Litter Pick on this apparently plastic-free beach. Here is my haul.
When we got back to Ripon, we found that a new group had been formed. Initially a group of two, it quickly grew. These are local people looking for a Plastic Free Ripon.
Plastic is part of all our lives (you try eliminating it and see just how hard it is), but single-use plastic doesn’t have to be. We’re 60 miles from the nearest beach, but it’s coastal communities who have perhaps woken up to the threat that plastic in our oceans represents, and Surfers against Sewage who have provided Ripon, and dozens of other communities with a toolkit to help us begin eliminate needless plastic from our city.
Thanks to a small group of foot-soldiers marching to local businesses and spreading the word, neighbourhood shops have committed to discouraging customers from having plastic bags. Some takeaways have invested in compostable food containers. There are bars that have decided against issuing plastic straws. Commit to taking three decisive steps to eliminate plastic, and your business in Ripon can be awarded plastic free-status. Many have eagerly responded to the challenge.
There’s much else to do. Hotels and bed and breakfast establishments are still providing little single-use plastic bottles of shower gel and lotions. School dinner providers still issue single-use bottles of water. Garden centres sell their wares in single-use plastic plant pots. Residents and passers-through who should know better sling bottles and packaging from car windows or outside take-aways. So that’s why there will be regular community litter-picks.
I wish I could say I was in the vanguard of all this action. I’m not, though I’m a small part of it. There’s a small gang working utterly indefatigably, and already they’ve made a huge difference. All the same. Like so many others, Malcolm and I have gone old-fashioned and eschew the plastic milk cartons in the supermarket. The early-morning milkman delivers us our early-morning pinta in a glass bottle for us to rinse out and return. Just like the good old days.
‘Prolific’ is this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge.