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  • Writer's picturePlastic Free Peckham

Cleaning Up in the Community

Next clean up is in Peckham Rye Park, meeting at the cafe at 2pm on Saturday 12th March.

Illustration by Sama Yahyazadeh.

As a Community Leader for Plastic Free Peckham, I organise Community Clean Ups in and around Peckham on a fairly regular basis. We’ve cleaned up several times in Holly Grove Shrubbery, Peckham Rye, Burgess Park and Kirkwood Nature Reserve, to name a few. We’ve cleaned up in rain and shine and we always get a good turnout - sometimes 70 people, sometimes 20 people. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon, and we always head home with the satisfaction that we’ve left the place much better than when we found it.

The best part is that you always meet like-minded people at a Community Clean Up, and you get to spend a few hours outdoors looking after these precious green spaces which provide us in the city with so much. The restorative power of spending time in nature, combined with the knowledge that we are supporting these places to heal themselves has amazing mental health benefits. I feel motivated and invigorated by even a small time outdoors.

People arrive in small groups, earlier ones get a litter picker (which the kids all love - ours are made from recycled fishing nets from Waterhaul) and the later ones get gloves and bags - white for recycling and blue for General Waste. We’ve even got tiny gloves for all the kids - they are some of our biggest fans. In Southwark we can recycle glass, plastic bottles, paper, card and cans - though often card and paper that we find in the natural environment is so soggy and muddy that not much can be done with it! We’ve had some bizarre finds - a wig, a toilet seat and a crisp packet from the 1990’s are amongst the most interesting. The foilised plastic crisp packet - though it’s contents would have gone off late in the last century - was still intact and almost undamaged by the elements in the years since it was dropped. This particular piece of litter was actually found in a park that is cleaned daily, which just shows how challenging it is to spot all the rubbish once it’s made its way into undergrowth and been blown under bushes or into hedgerows. Even in regularly cleaned parks we often get more than 12 bin bags of rubbish in under two hours.

The most challenging litter to clean up is the crisp packets and cans that have been cut into a hundred tiny pieces by people strimming grass - these tiny pieces of plastic, and many other tiny pieces like them, make their way into the soil where they don’t ever degrade but break up into ever smaller microplastics which pose a threat to wildlife. Many a seabird has been found dead with microplastics filling its stomach - and I would imagine the same could be said of many birds in Peckham.

Workshops with Community Groups

My favorite part of the Community Clean-Up is also the messiest - once everyone has finished collecting, the rubbish is tipped out onto the grass and sorted into what can be recycled in Southwark and what is General Waste. People are always really surprised at what can and can’t be recycled here - and the bio or compostable plastics always feature in the pile that can’t be recycled and so must go in General Waste. These plastics are better than regular plastic as they are not made from oil so the carbon footprint associated with their production tends to be smaller, and some are made from waste products which is even better. But they don’t fit with our existing waste streams - they can’t be recycled alongside regular plastic and they often can’t be composted at home - so they must go in General Waste.

We recently did a workshop for the local Scouts group - the kids were 11-14 in age and really knowledgeable about what can and can’t be recycled. One child suggested that fishermen should be incentivised to collect plastic whilst out fishing, which is certainly more innovative than many other solutions I’ve heard adults suggest! Following a brief intro from me about plastic (most of which they knew already!), we sorted through a lot of recycling we had brought to the session - thinking all the time about how this precious material, made from hard-won resources extracted from the earth, ought not to be used once and then discarded. This system that we have of using things once and then throwing them away is broken. There is no ‘away’, we are in fact just moving our rubbish from one place to another. And whilst we can’t see it we think it’s gone but actually it continues to do harm to us from wherever it is dumped. It is estimated that 5% of greenhouse gas emissions are from landfill.

The kids then came up with a load of great ideas about how we can change our throwaway lifestyle - ranging from bringing and buy sales to a local library of things. Their pledges to reduce the single use plastic they use as a group were extensive and ranged from switching toothbrushes to ones made of bamboo to re-using Scout uniform more easily. I’m really proud of the impact we have with a group of people who will then go home and talk to their families about the challenges we face - and having conversations about changing our lifestyles is easy to do and is a great place to start.

If you’d like to book a free workshop for your community group with us please drop us an email!

Volunteer with us!

We’re always on the look-out for new volunteers to go out and speak to small businesses, do talks for local schools and community groups and join us for a Community Clean-Up. These events are a great way to meet local people, spend time outside and help to maintain our precious local green spaces. All equipment is provided and we would love to meet you there! Our next clean up is in Peckham Rye Park, meeting at the cafe at 2pm on Saturday 12th March.

Plastic Free Peckham is an award-winning community group working with local businesses, schools and the wider community to reduce single-use plastic. Our goal is a cleaner local environment and a greener planet.

Words by Laura Ford, Illustration by Sama Yahyazadeh.


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