Driving to and from our office, we noticed a man regularly litter picking at the side of the road. Through local social media groups we managed to track Eric down for a chat about his incredible solo efforts to tackle litter in Gloucestershire.
Eric is a 62-year-old semi-retired power station engineer based in Dursley, Gloucestershire. He litter picks most days, anywhere from a couple minutes to five hours at a time. Focusing on the rubbish hotspots in his local areas, such as the woods and roadsides, litter picking has become a large part of his life, even doing it on holiday during his recent trips to Holland and Iceland. He explained how his motivation comes from a desire to make a difference to his local environment, promoting change nationally for the sake of his grandchildren, and their future children.
Originally from Pembrokeshire, South Wales, which is blessed with some beautiful beaches, Eric returns to Freshwater West to litter pick when he can. Recently he picked and counted out 3000 plastic and fishing net fragment in an area no greater than four parking spaces. He was also shocked by the quantity of tiny plastic nurdles also found underlying the bigger fragments or matted in seaweed. The word ‘nurdle’ was new to him and litter picking has taken him on a new road of discovery to include human behaviour and the lengths people go to litter.
Have you always been aware of litter?
He first became litter aware when fifteen in 1975 when one of his school friends got a summer job litter picking on Freshwater East beach. “I thought it was cool that he lived at the beach but also helped keep it clean”. Eric told us. “At the same time I worked in Haggar’s cinema in Pembroke and cleaned up after the film viewings, sweeping up rubbish between the seats. So cleaning up other people’s mess did not trouble me. My mother would regularly clean up outside the house as they did in those days, as her mother before her did in the 1920s.” Eric explained how forming those good habits at a young age stayed with him throughout his life.
Why did you start litter picking?
It was through direct impact that he was reawakened to litter and the mess we find ourselves in today. Around six years ago whilst walking his dog Arthur in the woodland around Stinchcombe Hill, he wandered into an area littered with broken glass. After taking Arthur out of harm, Eric picked up the glass and returned the area to nature, but on walking home noticed litter scattered along the path at regular intervals. From then on, he would go out with a bag and fill it during his dog walks. The bag just got bigger and bigger, as he found litter everywhere. During covid restrictions daily exercise walks included litter picking everywhere he went. He now uses IKEA carrier bags because they are strong and depending on the type of litter, and can hold over 500 items.
Although predominately a solo litter picker, he is a member of various social media groups to include Truckers Cleaning Up Britain and Keep Britain Tidy Litter Heroes. He is also an active member of the local campaign group Litter Free Stroud. Being part of these groups help him to not feel alone, as he can turn to litter picker friends from around the world to share experiences and humour. Many provide inspiration and are his litter heroes.
What have you achieved to date?
So having started off humbly with just a small bag of broken glass on his first pick, Eric estimates that he has now picked up in excess of 300,000 pieces of litter over the years. Plastics normally dominate his litter picks particularly food and sweet wrappers.
“It’s astounding that products take minutes to consume but packaging can be around hundreds of years as litter. It’s a crazy situation to be in and have to deal with.”
Over the last fourteen months he has also recycled in excess of 30,000 aluminium cans and 600kg of other metals found in hedges. All glass bottles found are also recycled. He has added twenty-two lay-bys to his regular cleaning spots on the A38 /A419 Gloucestershire. This was where we here at Life’s a Beach first spotted him!
He will often walk the carriageways litter picking to raise driver awareness. His hardest litter pick physically was removing a fly-tip of fourteen bags of domestic rubbish to include nappies from a deep lay-by drainage ditch as they were water logged. On another occasion removing twenty-seven car tyres from a private lane as no one else seemed to want to do it. He will use stacked tyres to make bins in lay-by litter hotspots and these have worked very well.
What sort of things do you find?
People throw out all sorts, even the kitchen sink! The most amusing find was a gorilla mask that was placed in a hedge that took me back. Fortunately it was not attached to a gorilla.
Truck drivers will often throw quantities of in date-tinned food, good enough to take home or the food bank. I find perfectly good clothing, books, DVDs etc that I take to charity shops. On the other side of the coin I have to deal with unpleasant items such as bottled urine (tizer) and bagged excrement left by drivers in local lay-bys. This is a huge problem nationally and needs specific action in its own right. I’ve also come across drug den needles and like other litter pickers vapes and nitrous oxide canisters in increasing numbers.
I don’t collect vintage litter as such but have kept a few items such as crisp packets and aluminium cans dated from the 1970’s to show school children how long litter hangs around. Few people consider the impact of litter and are always surprised when I tell them that it could take 250 years for a plastic bottle to degrade, even then only into smaller pieces.
However, having said all this beach cleans remains his favourite and a reminder of Pembrokeshire.
How has your litter picking evolved, and what do you hope to achieve in the future?
Evolving on from litter picking, he now focuses some of his efforts campaigning for change in litter legislation. Specifically, trying to get businesses whose activities generate or facilitate excess litter to engage and play their part in keeping their premises and environment clean. Something he believes many fail to do so on a company wide basis and their CEOs suffer litter blindness at the moment.
“Currently there is no consistency across the country and as a consequence litter builds up in and around land owned or leased by businesses. Nobody takes responsibility or leads by example and it’s a real muddle to untangle land ownership and who should clean up.” Eric explained to us how this helps to normalise litter, and as a result the onus falls onto volunteers and groups to act.
He also expressed how we should be moving away from an over-reliance on litter picking volunteer. Saying that while their work is valuable, pushing for business focused legislation is what will make a lasting impact.
“Why should litter volunteers have to clean up in and around supermarkets? If current legislation was made to work with more ‘shared responsibility’ to keep the environment clean it would have significant impact and reduce levels of litter in our communities. Start the litter fight back at the point of sale and cascade outwards.”
Eric is also keen for local authorities to do their part to help with this growing crisis. As Litter Authorities they should be granted funding so that they can raise awareness, monitor, and enforce legislation. “I do hope MPs and councils see the light and do something about it. If they want to reduce litter levels and impact, they need to scale-up and spread the responsibility across the wider community. Currently councils and litter volunteers are over-whelmed, whilst businesses play little part and look on.”
Whilst they are not responsible for their customers litter, they have a moral and legal responsibility to clean up their packaging in and around their premises. We all have to share some responsibility to clean up the environment.
Eric has been featured in numerous articles as part of his fight for real meaningful change.
We are grateful for Eric sharing his thoughts and experiences with us. We are also inspired by both Eric’s enduring effort on his litter picks, but also his dedication to making last change. We are committed to supporting him where we can in his fight against plastic and litter.
If you, or someone you know is making a difference, and deserves to be one of our litter-picking heroes, then let us know! Message us on our social medias, or email us at email@example.com to be featured.