Dunna chuck bruck, clean up your muck!

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Anna and Olivia litter picking

One of the perks of working at Scientific Group is all employees can take a day’s paid leave to volunteer. This year, the members of the Scottish branch of Scientific Group, Anna and Liv, used their volunteering day to help clear litter from a popular part of the Forth & Clyde Canal in Glasgow. The experience was rewarding and eye-opening, and we are delighted to share some key learnings from the day, with the hope of encouraging others to get involved with initiatives in their communities!

Picking litter requires planning 

We started by contacting our local litter action group, Partick Action on Litter (aka PAL). We initially planned to drive a few miles out of town to a nature spot, but PAL immediately pointed out the flaw in that idea – a heap of big black rubbish sacks, a small car, in the middle of the countryside far from a dump! So, we decided to change our destination to somewhere closer to home, choosing a popular boating lock on the Forth & Clyde Canal in Anniesland.

You can never have too much hand sanitizer

We met up in the morning with a member of PAL, who supplied us with litter picker sticks, rubber work gloves, a stash of plastic refuse sacks, and hoops to keep the bags clipped open. (We’d also recommend wearing tough footwear and packing a lot of hand sanitizer!) After pausing for some photos, we launched ourselves into the task. Over the course of the day, we cleared 200 m of canal pathway, filled 12 bags of rubbish to the brim, had lunch, and took several trips to the dump, before finally heading home for much-needed showers.

Three things you can expect from a litter-picking volunteer day?

First, the number one type of litter we collected was so-called ‘compostable’ bags of dog poo. For those who leave this as litter, take note from our first-hand experience: compostable dog poo bags do not magically transform your dog’s brown pile into potting soil. They break down just enough to let the contents escape, at which point it is still dog poo in a public space. Compostable or not, please put yer dug poop in the bin!

Second, passers-by are very interested in litter pickers! We were thanked by about a dozen people, and someone even stopped us to ask how he could arrange a group litter pick for his running club. Seeing so many folks sharing concern about shared green spaces was both heartwarming and motivating!

Third, an amateur/volunteer litter-picking crew will barely make a dent in the problem. We did a good job of lifting the superficial layer of litter from around 200 m of canal footpath, but there were unconquerable barriers in the form of steep embankments, fences, thickets of thorny vegetation and the canal itself. A deeper clean would have required gardening loppers, machetes, serious PPE, and perhaps bulk uplift and some sort of chemical herbicide. Our efforts made an observable difference, but they were no substitute for top-level environmentalism.

Littering, conservation and the human condition

Taking charge of our local environment was an empowering experience, and it was also highly satisfying to see such a difference in the landscape, while the support from the community certainly helped us maintain our drive.

Litter picking is an activity we would definitely do again, but we’d also like to get involved in other community projects. By taking small steps towards sustainability in our own lives, we can set an example for others in our communities and create a culture of environmental responsibility. There are endless ways to get involved in volunteering, and we highly recommend getting in touch with your local volunteering community.

Litter picking offers volunteers a sense of fulfilment, and is highly appreciated by the local community and, we assume, the local wildlife. By working both individually and together, we can foster bottom-up change to build stronger, more connected communities and a more sustainable future for all.

So, next time you’re about tae fling that Irn Bru bottle in a bush… don’t act like a wain, tak it hame.

How to conduct climate-friendlier medical education events

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