COVID 19 has highlighted and exacerbated the country’s increasing and long standing problem of litter pollution. With people confined to their homes, the limited time allowed outside has shown the value of our natural world and how polluted and damaged it has become.
Few open spaces in populated areas are untouched by discarded plastic or metal rubbish. With vast quantities of used face masks being randomly jettisoned for the foreseeable future, pollution is a key and pressing challenge for the country. Not just unsightly, litter is dangerous to people and animals. It poisons land and water and threatens human health.
COVID 19 could be a catalyst for tackling the problem. Community action during the pandemic has been unprecedented in peacetime: help has come from the medically trained and thousands of ordinary people running food banks and supporting vulnerable neighbours. Not everyone can offer that level of commitment, but the strong community feeling developed through adversity highlights an opportunity to improve daily life for everyone.
While charities and media inspired volunteers tackle litter pollution piecemeal, a more ambitious, national approach is required. It should be so persuasive and high profile that careless littering is seen as unacceptable and repellent.
Encouraging everyone to take personal responsibility for caring for our environment provides the opportunity to address the isolation and despair the epidemic has caused many people. Litter pickers set their own pace and challenges. They are active in the open air and their efforts produce visible and tangible results. Participating in a national effort in this way carries with it a satisfying sense of achievement. These physical and mental health benefits are widely recognised. Increasing feelings of self-worth and personal well-being while making public spaces safer and more attractive would be a significant and positive legacy from the COVID 19 tragedy.