Litter-picking craze 'sweeping' across Wakefield

A new movement to help keep communities clean is sweeping the district, with hundreds of people now taking part in regular litter picks.

Friday, 7th May 2021, 1:48 pm
Karen says people need to take more responsibility.

After the recent bad press over rubbish being dumped at the area’s beauty spots during spells of hot weather, it raised questions from the need for more public bins, to how often they are emptied, as well as sparking debates over the lack of education and the lack of punishment for those responsible.

Whatever the solution, it has triggered a response from community-minded folk.

The West Wakefield Wombles has over 400 members, and has become a prolific litter-picking group.

Karen Forbes tidying around Horbury.

They hold weekly picks around the Horbury and Ossett areas, and recently hit a massive milestone, having picked up more than 2,000 bags of rubbish in the space of a year.

Karen Forbes, a veterinary surgeon who joined the group last year during lockdown and has become a key member, says interest has gathered pace, particularly in the last 12 months.

This is evident by the amount of rubbish collected.

Karen said: “We picked up 1,009 bags in the whole of last year, we’ve done 1,400 already this year. There are just hundreds of people picking up litter as they go.”

Litter pickers in Horbury.

As well a clearing the obvious ‘grotspots’, some areas not touched for decades are now being targeted.

Karen even found a drinks can from the 1970s recently, proving how long some litter has been left lying around.

And while the easing of lockdown is being partly blamed for the mess left at Pugneys and other country parks, Karen says the lockdown has actually led to more people rolling up their sleeves and getting stuck in.

“I’m surprised by the response in some ways,” she said.

“We’ve all been made to think about things since lockdown because we could only stay in one area and we’re looking at what is going on around us.

“With only having an hour’s worth of exercise during the first lockdown, you got people bumbling around their neighbourhood who may not have done that before.

“The amount of ‘grot spots’ around this area are becoming fewer, and it’s making the area a lot better.”

Despite crossing the 2,000-bag mark in the year, Karen says the attitude of people is more impressive.

She added: “I do not go on how many bags we collect, it is how many of us are doing it.

“When you other people doing it, it has an impact.

“It creates a great community spirit and a great sense of achievement.”

Adelaide Foster, a local ambassador for Keep Britain Tidy, described the litter-picking attitude as a “revolution sweeping Wakefield”.

She says the West Wakefield Wombles is a leading light in the crusade, but other groups are beginning to form across the district.

She runs a Facebook page called Wakefield Litter Heroes, which now has 459 members

She said: “The idea of the page is to empower people to do something about it either alone or in groups, and they’re doing some amazing work.

“Coupled with an initiative from Wakefield Council where litter kits are given out free, people are tackling litter and making a difference in their hundreds.”

While the debate over how to tackle litter rages on, one of the most common and misinformed reactions is that it is Wakefield Council’s job to clear up.

The council is responsible for emptying public bins, and do have street cleaners to keep areas as free from litter as possible, but Karen Forbes insists people need to take responsibility.

She said: “The council is strapped for cash, we all know that, and I would rather my money goes on planting bulbs or keeping services going.

“I do not see why we should pay to help clear other people’s litter.

“It is their job to empty the bins, but it’s up to us if the bins are full, to take our rubbish home.

“If you can lug a huge bag of stuff for a picnic, it would be so much lighter on the way back home.

“Everyone says there’s not enough bins or they are not emptied enough, but if you go to Japan there are hardly any bins because they are expected to sort it out themselves.

“It’s a cultural thing.

“I have never met anyone who actually admits to littering, so it’s hard to work out who is doing it!”

The mess left at Pugneys last month was just one example, with parks all across the country seeing similar amounts of rubbish being dumped as people gathered to mark the easing of lockdown.

Despite the outcry, it is continuing to happen as the weather continues to warm up and people look to meet friends and family in public places.