I am excited to announce that we did our first ever Million Tonne Challenge clean up and although it was small (just me and my mum – who is a total legend), it taught us a lot!

Location of clean up: Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, UK

Distance covered: 0.62Km

Time taken: Approximately 2 hours

1st clean up - route and distance

Number of people: 2

Total weight of waste collected: 19.7Kg

Proportion of this waste which was recyclable: 8.7Kg

Proportion of this waste which was sent to landfill: 11Kg

Equipment: 2 waste grippers, 2 high-visibility vests, 2 pairs of gloves, a roll of black bags & a car to transport the waste away

I started  1 Million Tonne Challenge with the hope of making a real difference to the environment and to my community.

One side of the challenge is to prevent waste entering the environment and the other side is to clean up the waste that has already made it there and to divert some of the recovered waste back into the recycling stream.

With this aim in mind, we will be doing regular clean ups to recover waste, to understand the scale of the littering problem and to understand the mechanisms by which waste enters the environment.

This is the diary of our first clean up:

Mid-day on Sunday 28th February I decided that I would begin the first clean up in my local area. I was prepared to go out on my own, but thankfully my mum offered to come with me: she’s an angel.

So we packed up the equipment and headed off to a section of road that I drive down quite frequently; over the last few weeks I had noticed how much litter was present on this stretch of road and was itching to do something about it.

Once we got started we quickly began to comment on the things that we found, it became evident pretty quickly that the majority of the waste was from convenience food (fast food wrappers, crisps, chocolate bars, sweets) and drinks (single-use coffee cups, plastic drinks bottle and cans of soda) that had been throw out of the windows of the passing cars.

The amount of used cigarettes also shocked us, this was by far the most numerous item that we found, they don’t weigh a lot but there were thousands of these cigarettes that drivers had smoked and thrown out the window along with the cigarette packets.

The most bizarre thing that we found was half a jar of pickled onions! We couldn’t figure out quite how they got there, they are not a normal snack food that you would expect somebody to have in their car, let alone thrown out of the window!

Once I got the waste home, I spread it out on my patio (while my boyfriend was out!) and started to categorise it, the pictures below detail the items that were found:

The groups of items in the images include the following:

  • Disposable coffee cups & cold drinks cups
  • Junk food containers, such as McDonalds burgers and Costa sandwiches
  • Metal drinks cans
  • Other metal items – including 24 Nitrous Oxide canisters – this is a ‘recreational drug’ that induces a temporary high when inhaled
  • Plastic drinks bottles
  • Glass wine and beer bottles
  • Cigarettes
  • Cigarette packets
  • Baby wipes or disposable facial wipes
  • Unopened food items – (including a full packet of super noodles)
  • Addressed mail from other counties
  • Junk food wrappers, such as chocolate, crisps and sweets
  • Pieces of cars – such as hub caps and mud flaps
  • Personal items including a CD, a purse, a piece of Jenga and a hair roller!

I sucessfully separated 8.7Kg of recyclable waste from this haul and this went to my local metal & glass recycling stations and the plastics and paper got put into my external recycling bin.

The rest of the waste weighed a total of 11Kg and this included all the junk food wrappers and the disposable coffee cups.

This haul taught me a few really good lessons:

  1. Convenience food products produce the majority of the landfill waste that comes from households, if you are eager to reduce your impact then start with these types of products
  2. You can never be sure where your waste is going to end up and so it makes sense to have as little waste as possible. Parts of the waste that we recovered had obviously spilled out of the back of a recycling truck, and I can bet that the two people who recycled their mail without cutting off the address didn’t expect that it would end up by the side of the road and eventually get picked up by me. Hence, the most valuable lesson – you should always cut the address off any mail that you are going to put in your landfill or recycling bins
  3. Littering is not a problem in and of itself, the problem starts when the wrong types of material are throw into the environment on mass. For example, we found over 10 banana skins that had been throw onto the grass by the side of the road. We left them where they lay because they will rot away and replenish nutrients to the soil. However, we didn’t leave any visible plastic lying in the environment as this only causes pollution and leaching of chemicals into ground water
  4. We saw direct evidence of how pollution ends up in our waterways and eventually rivers and oceans. If we stop the pollution at source then we wouldn’t have to collect it from the ocean.
  5. Disposable items (or single-use items) made up the majority of the waste that we collected. It is really important to change your habits in order to remove these types of items from your life. Opt for re-usable items to reduce your impact.
  6. Plastic or multi-material plastic and foil items were the most common pieces of waste by volume and these materials are strongly correlated to convenience and junk food products

If you have never done a litter clean up, then I highly recommend it, it makes you question your own waste and how you can reduce it.

We will continue to do small scale clean ups in our local area and will be organising larger scale clean ups in the future.

We will release details of how you can get involved as we have them, please keep your eye out on the blog for updates.

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