Litter Picking in Spelthorne
Paula Gethin, a congregation member at St Hilda’s Ashford, in the Spelthorne Deanery reports on her efforts to create a better environment as part of the Christian message of stewardship for God’s creation. By thinking local, she is acting global and acting in prayer for our planet.
In 2019 during a trek in the foothills of the Himalayas, my cohort was horrified at the sheer volume of litter accumulating in what was otherwise unspoiled wilderness. Mountains of plastic bottles and wrappers were caught in the rocks and undergrowth and demonstrated the full horror of what you see in a David Attenborough documentary. In India, towns and villages are struggling with the transition from carrying food in organic ways to tourism-led mass-produced snacks and drinks, encased in plastic and sold in mountain huts, catering to tourists and locals alike. Unlike the original organic wrappings, anything not consumed accumulates in the undergrowth watercourses and will eventually end up in the ocean.
I became increasingly aware that accumulating litter was not confined to “developing” areas of the world and that actually our local environment is blighted by cigarette buts, plastic wrappings, drinks bottles, fast food debris, designer coffee cups, cans, drug paraphernalia and worst of all fly-tipping.
Joining the Litterpickers seemed a great way to do something to take care of our planet. With this in mind, my husband and I joined Spelthorne Litterpickers last year, primarily as part of our exercise allocation, to give something back to the local community, and to look after the local environment, as part of the Christian message of stewardship for God’s creation. More than 700 people locally share adventures on Facebook. There are other groups – like Staines Watercourse – clearing the mess in watercourses from boats and waders and the Truckers Cleaning Britain – litter picking and educating the community about looking after the environment.
We have received council funding for tools and high-viz vests and the borough council provide sacks to collect the waste, which we either leave tied up by a bin or report online with a photo of the location which is then collected the next day.
There is a huge sense of shared purpose, pride in our local environment and a desire to encourage and educate. Children are encouraged to participate and receive a certificate from the Mayor, and we are working with our local Duke of Edinburgh Award so that picking counts as a recognised volunteering activity. We also collect, count and report Nitrous Oxide (NOS) canisters which are then sold for recycling, with the money invested in drugs projects in the borough.
I say a prayer for our planet with every piece of plastic I pick up. I am not an environmentalist, but I am horrified at the careless pollution in my own back yard, which spoils it for everyone else. I know people notice what we are doing – because we are often thanked. In time we hope that this quiet activity will encourage other people to think twice before compromising our beautiful local environment. All it takes is one person at a time to make a difference.