Uncovering what really gets dumped – and cleared away
After disentangling a moss-encrusted office chair from a bramble patch, cutting a plastic meat tray from a tree and knotting a length of old hosepipe, Stuart Walker has some words of wisdom.
“If you think you’re the only one doing this kind of thing, you worry people might think you’re a bit of a weirdo,” he said.“But actually you’re part of an organisation of over 300 people, so you realise you’re not a lone weirdo, as all the others are doing it too.”
To emphasise the point, Stuart’s wife and fellow member of Runners against Rubbish Lorna Jackson emerged from a nearby swamp, emptied a stream of brown goo from a can, and held up a piece of tangled metal. “A light fitting maybe?” she queried.
People dump the weirdest things, said Lorna, who found an array of distinctive clothing including a size nine pair of sparkly platform boots last week. “Maybe discarded by a pantomime dame at the end of the season?” asked Stuart.
And in the woodlands of Crookes, the two running litterpickers came across a donkey-sized wooden horse that baffled both of them.
Not all rubbish can conveniently be extracted by runners as they pass by, admitted Stuart.
Flytipped office chairs, cannabis growing paraphernalia and wooden horses require a call or note to the local council, who genuinely welcome the information. Stuart recommends the ‘FixMyStreet’ app.
After three years, Stuart’s Runners Against Rubbish charity is now an international organisation, he says, in the sense that it has two members in Ireland, one in Australia, and one in New Zealand.
His inspiration was the pressure group Surfers Against Sewage, whose persuasive attitude (and catchy name) helped inspire the public to make a huge difference to Britain’s beaches.
Cycling round the Peak District, Stuart saw the trails of litter along rural roadsides, and when running on the moors he found helium balloons tangled in remote heather miles from anywhere.
“I have most of my best ideas when running or cycling, and I came up with the line ‘Binners are Winners’ which is now our hashtag,” he said.
He enlisted colleagues from the Dark Peak Fell Runners club, and through word of mouth and social media Runners Against Rubbish grew from Sheffield and the Peak District around the world.
The £2 joining fee covers a badge and stickers, for which members sign up to never drop any rubbish themselves, to encourage others not to drop rubbish, and to pick up rubbish ‘when I see it and am able to do so’.
The latter is the tricky bit, says Stuart.
“We work on the broken windows theory,” he explained. “If there’s already litter, people are more inclined to drop more, and you see it build up into a pile. So by clearing rubbish you stop it being dropped in future, and we hope we can also move people from those who’d never drop it to those who might pick up other litter when they’re out and about.”
(RAR is also for walkers, cyclists and anyone who wants to make a difference to the countryside they visit, stresses Stuart).
Early January is known as flytipping season (dark nights, seasonal clear outs and bins full of Christmas leftovers all contribute) but Stuart and Lorna reckon they’ve seen an improvement over recent years, in the Rivelin Valley particularly where RAR members regularly scour the undergrowth.
Stuart has helped organise mass litter picks in the past, including a 60 strong team clearing the 630 mile South West Coast Path two years ago. But the key (and easy) thing is for outdoors folk to think about how they can help keep their own routes clean, he says.
“We have people now saying they’ll go out and pick up five pieces of rubbish, or one piece on every run, or they watch out for rubbish and choose a route to do a short clear up when they’re nearly home.” Carrying gloves and a small carrier bag in your pocket, your pannier or your car can help, says Lorna.
And when people do see you rummaging for Red Bull cans in roadside bushes remember: you’re not alone, and you’re really not a weirdo.