We should all thank Sir David Attenborough for lifting 60 bags of assorted litter out of Cat Lane woods last Saturday.
“We’d all been watching the last episodes of Blue Planet about how everything in the oceans was being ruined by plastic,” said Fran Elliott, next to a fractured plastic wendy house rescued from disintegration in the North Sea.
“Then we went into these woods and saw all the plastic, and started talking about it on social media.
“People were saying they were going to stop using straws, but we said a bigger impact would be to remove the plastic in the environment already.”
Last Saturday morning, more than 50 people from Heeley, Gleadless and Meersbrook cheerfully scoured the woodlands around Cat Lane for litter, bagged it up and left it for the Amey disposal team to collect.
This was the second annual ‘Let's Deplastic Heeley Woods’ day organised by Fran and her friends, all of whom were clearly enjoying themselves.
“When you first see all the litter you feel shocked that people can be so selfish to drop so much stuff,” said Will Davidson.
“It makes you feel angry that you’re giving up your time and effort to pick it up, but it also helps you feel better, because you’re doing something worthwhile for yourself, getting out and doing some exercise along with your local community.”
More and more people in the Outdoor City are organising themselves to do just that, said Iren Wadsworth from Sheffield Litter Pickers, who says while the problem of litter seems to be getting worse, there are now at least 900 people in over 60 different groups regularly gathering up litter from the city’s streets and green spaces.
“People say I can’t step out of my house and look at this anymore,” Iren said.
“So then someone else says, ‘Well you can either carry on getting distressed and moaning, or you can actually make a start at doing something about it.’
Then after getting going, people say they now know loads of lovely people in their neighbourhood they never knew existed. It makes you feel part of the community more.”
The Cat Lane litter pickers found over a tonne of rubbish including car and bike tyres, a set of gym weights, traffic cones, a helium gas canister, hundreds of bottles, bags and cans, a tree full of wet wipes, an antique ‘Cole Brothers’ carrier bag and several large plastic children’s toys. (People like to clear out their old toys after Christmas, observed Iren).
Some of the plastic toys already showed signs of degradation, said Fran.
Whereas landfilled plastic will often sit underground for centuries, sunlight makes many plastics brittle so they fragment into ever smaller pieces and find their way into local rivers. So Heeley’s wendy house and toy scooter would have become micro plastic floating round the world’s oceans, if not for the litter-picking families last Saturday.
Stretched council resources mean voluntary litter pickers are needed more than ever, said Iren, and anyone can ask the council’s litter team for bags and pickers for an individual or community litter pick. (See https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/litter or https://www.facebook.com/groups/SheffieldLitterPickers/) Doing a regular clean up tends to deter litter droppers, said Will Davidson.
“After the last time it seemed to stay clean here for a quite a few months. I think if people do walk through and see litter, they says to themselves it doesn’t really matter if I add a packet of crisps, it doesn’t make any difference.”
Jane Boden feels getting more people out into the woods helps everyone care more for their local environment, and is organising the ‘Newfield Run in the Woods’ 2, 5 and 10K runs on April 27 in aid of Meersbrook Bank, Carfield and Newfield schools.
“It helps makes you feel safe when you know the woods are being kept clean,” said Jane.
“It feels positive that you’ve helped the local environment” said Fran Elliott, “and you’ve helped hundreds of people who’ll now walk through here and notice how much better it looks.”