Volunteer litter picking

Volunteering to keep our communities clean and tidy is a wonderful contribution to helping Central Bedfordshire continue to be a great place to live and work. If you’ve noticed somewhere in your local community that would benefit from a little extra attention, a litter pick is your chance to make a difference, whilst bringing your local community together.

To help those that give their time to carry out community litter picks we have prepared some ‘top tips’ that we recommend you read to make sure your litter picks are managed, volunteers kept safe and any risks are minimised.

If you would like to carry out a litter pick in your local community, you may wish to consider these suggestions.

What take part in a community litter pick?

By joining a local group you'll be meeting like-minded people and getting to know your neighbours. Working together with others in your community you will harness local support for cleaning up litter. You'll be acting on an issue that you care about and you'll be out in the fresh air!

Where can I litter pick?

Why not make a sketch map of the area to be tackled for your group? Note where litter collection points are. You might want to identify a lost and found and a first aid point. It’s a good idea to carry a first aid kit for personal use as well, just in case.

You can also mark the location of any toilets and other useful amenities, and if it rains your volunteers will thank you if you mark an area suitable for them to shelter.

Check out who owns the land where you propose to pick litter. If your event is on Central Bedfordshire Council owned land, e.g. along the highway or open space please contact env.services@centralbedfordshire.gov.uk for further advice. We will only support litter picks on public land.

Where can I get the equipment I might need?

The following items are recommended to be used by volunteers undertaking litter picks:

  • reflective hi-visibility vests or jackets to clearly highlight volunteers to traffic and pedestrians
  • thick gloves in case of accidental contact with any noxious or dangerous materials
  • suitable footwear and clothing. Long-sleeved tops and trousers, and enclosed shoes with grip are recommended

Be prepared for the weather

In warm weather, ensure you are protected from the sun with a hat, sunscreen if required, and appropriate clothing to cover up. Take regular breaks as required, and drink regularly.

Be prepared to stop if you do not feel safe in the weather conditions. It is advisable to carry a personal first aid kit.

Carry a mobile phone, check your signal and have a plan on how you will summon help if needed.

Wash hands before eating or drinking, going to the toilet, and after completing the litter pick.

How do I keep everyone safe?

Litter picking during the COVID-19 pandemic

Do not take part in a litter pick if you are isolating, have tested positive for Covid, suspect you have Covid or have Covid symptoms. You can get a rapid flow test at a local testing centre.

Follow the latest government guidance on the size of the group and the number of households that are permitted to meet outside.

Maintain social distancing at all times from anyone not in your household.

Practise additional hygiene – wash hands before and after litter picking and use hand sanitiser regularly.

Consider arrangements for travelling to and from the litter picking location.

Handle any littered gloves and masks with care. These must be disposed of as non-recyclable waste.

What risks should we consider when carrying out a litter pick?

Having chosen a place for your clean-up, visit the site and carry out a full assessment of the risks. It is important you consider all the possible risks to you and your volunteers. When considering the safety of the area you are to litter pick, you may wish to consider the following:

  • unidentified cans or canisters, oil drums, poisons, insecticides, clinical waste, other hazardous substances, broken glass, syringes, dog fouling, fly-tipping and larger / heavier waste items (e.g. tyres, white goods) etc. If any of these items are found, please notify Environmental Services who will organise appropriate action. Do not attempt to move anything that appears to be hazardous
  • if you litter pick near a road use a wide verge or pavement, facing oncoming traffic where possible and the Highway Code
  • if litter picking along the highway, restrict your litter picks where there is a speed limit of 30mph or less. Clean-ups are not recommended for roads where the speed limit is over 30mph unless they are in safe areas well away from the carriageway. If you have identified any areas on any roads outside 30mph speed limits adjacent / near roads, please contact the council to enable them to review any action that can be taken
  • wear hi-visibility clothing and finish your event before it gets dark
  • don’t pick litter close to the carriageway
  • be careful with surrounding hedges and undergrowth which may cause you harm
  • avoid reaching into a ditch to remove litter, unless it can be safely reached with a litter picker.
  • avoid litter picking close to rivers or fast-flowing water, on steep slopes, as there is an increased risk of slips and falls.
  • avoid lifting heavy items which may cause strain to your body
  • be mindful of wildlife, especially nests in springtime and summer

Where is unsafe?

Do not enter an area, or attempt to litter pick an area, where works are taking place (for example road works) or where the public does not have a right to entry. Do not enter private land or property to remove litter or other items, including flytipping; this should be dealt with by landowners. You can report this to us if required.

What shouldn’t we pick up?

If volunteers encounter any of the following materials, they should be left alone and reported to the Council. Please contact Environmental Services, advising of the item(s) and the location who will make arrangements for any dangerous materials to be collected.

  • drug-related litter/hypodermic needles – these should not be moved under any circumstance. Note the location and report to Environmental Services for specialist removal
  • suspect materials and fly-tipping – items that are possibly dangerous such as unknown liquids in containers, building materials, asbestos, or fly-tipping should not be moved by volunteers. Note the location and report to Environmental Services for specialist removal
  • Animal faeces, dead animals, fungi etc. There may be a disease risk from water such as leptospirosis (Weil’s disease)
  • large items such as shopping trolleys etc

If there is any doubt about an item, leave it, and let Environmental Services know.

Broken glass

Broken glass can be removed using a litter picker or a brush and shovel, avoiding contact by hand, and disposed of in a sturdy container.

What is the ideal group size?

There is no ideal group size, but it is advisable to work in pairs or operate within sight of at least one other person in the group. Always follow the latest Government COVID-19 guidance.

Identify one colleague as a Volunteer leader and have their contact details He or she should arrange a rendezvous at a specific time and place at the end of the event. Avoid lone working and if you have a large group, consider having a sign-in.

While it is beneficial to get young people involved in litter picks, age plays a big part in the ability to recognise and avoid risk, and they may be unable to participate for longer periods of time. Accordingly, volunteers under the age of 18 should be supervised by an adult and permission for their participation should be gained from a parent or guardian, and appropriate ratios of adult to children.

Lifting and handling materials

Volunteers should be aware of the risk of injury by carrying bags of collected litter and attempting to lift and carry heavy materials. To avoid injury, use the following basic principles of manual handling:

  • use litter pickers to prevent constant bending and stretching
  • make sure an item is safe to handle with no sharp edges or harmful contents
  • decide if an item can be safely moved either by one or two people
  • only try to move an item if this can be done so without straining
  • when lifting an item, bend the legs and keep the back straight.

The Health and Safety Executive has published a helpful guide on manual handling, which includes tips on assessing risk and handling techniques. 

Should we separate recycling?

Volunteers are not obliged to separate recyclable items of litter, but it would be welcomed. The recyclable items should be added to the volunteers’ recycling bin (were clean and acceptable) or taken to their nearest recycling point or bottle bank (or in separate bags).

How do I arrange for waste to be collected?

For one-off litter picks and litter that has been collected as part of the Great British Spring Clean where larger quantities of litter are likely to be collected, we can supply bags and arrange for the litter collected to be disposed of after the event. Please contact the Environmental Services env.services@centralbedfordshire.gov.ukor 0300 300 5873 at least 2 weeks in advance to arrange this.

Where possible, small quantities of litter collected should be disposed of by volunteers through their own refuse/recycling collections. If this is not possible, then volunteers are asked to take the litter to their nearest Household Waste Recycling Centre. Exercise caution when transporting waste.

How long should a litter pick last for?

Consider for how long you plan to litter pick; 2 hours will be enough for many adults and an hour would be more appropriate for groups involving children.

You should also plan for your event to be completely finished before it gets dark.

Disclaimer

We are very supportive of local volunteer litter picks but volunteers should not participate in litter picks unless they understand and accept that participation is entirely at their own risk. Volunteers are not working for, or on behalf of, the Parish or Central Bedfordshire Council, therefore we will not be held responsible for any loss, damage or inconvenience caused because of the actions and omissions of volunteers or this guidance.