Humans can’t use bins

“Humans can’t use bins. You can have a million bins and they will still put rubbish next to the bin or just leave it. You can train a monkey to use a bin. You can train a bird to use a bin. But you can’t train humans to use a bin. The annoyance, the laziness, the fact that someone else will do it. And the fact that they just do not care,” so laments local legend and Stamford super fan, Neil McIvor at our recent catch up.

Neil is the founder of Pride of Stamford litter pickers. Instantly recognisable in his bright orange ex-RAC van, he and his team of volunteer litter pickers work tirelessly with local council workers to keep our town rubbish free.

“Half a century in the great outdoors has done nothing to degrade this piece of plastic”

He arrives for our chat in his trademark orange hoody, brandishing a favourite find in his hand – his trophy he calls it. It’s a plastic bottle he has had dated back to the late 60s. Dug up on one of his many litter picks, it looks good as new, bar a bit of mud. Half a century in the great outdoors has done nothing to degrade this piece of plastic – a powerful and depressing reminder of the longevity of single use plastic.

So if bins aren’t the answer to our litter problems, what is? Well, when it comes to plastic bottles, he has a plan. “We need a proper recycling scheme,” he explains. “We need to give 20p on every bottle to make it worthwhile for people to take it back. People would walk the streets taking them back too. Every plastic bottle. 20 pence. Not 5p. Not 10p. Not 7.5p. 20p.” It seems simple enough – they do it across Europe after all, but for some reason the UK government is loathed to do it. For now at least, in our local area we have to rely on the Pride of Stamford team. And with lockdown restrictions being lifted today, we’ll need them now more than ever, if Neil’s experience is anything to go by.

“There’s going to be a Tsunami of litter”

“When lockdown finishes, there’s going to be a tsunami of litter. It’s going to be insane,” Neil says. “We’ve got a perfect storm coming. With pubs not being open, beer gardens are open and you’ve got limited capacity with people still wanting to go out and drink. Last time, you had adults, children and teenagers all milling around on the meadows. The older ones had their plastic cups from the pub that they would just toss away – they’d had a few drinks and didn’t care. The kids would see the older generations leaving their rubbish and they would do the same. They would all just get up and walk away, make no effort to clean up.”

“People have been locked up. I understand that. They are going to want to let their hair down. I understand that completely. But it can be done responsibly. Put your rubbish in the bag you bought your stuff in. Put it in the bin. And if the bin is full, just tie the handle up and leave it by the bin, recycling your bag for your rubbish.”

This certainly seems like something we could all do when we’re next out for that oh so precious socially distanced drink with friends. And to put quantities into context, there have been days when, for example Neil, his team and council workers have collected 80 – 90 bags of rubbish from the meadows, rec and skate park alone. Yes, 90 bags of rubbish left on a single day. We can do better.

There’s no doubt that lockdown has brought its own challenges when it comes to single use plastic. Obviously the use of throw away masks and gloves have sky rocketed but it’s take away coffee cups that get the most air time from Neil.

“The litter pickers at Burghley have seen coffee cups go through the roof”

“Coffee cups – I’m afraid with the coffee shops shut, you’ve got the wanderers, the jugglers who go off to Burghley and the litter pickers at Burghley have seen coffee cups go through the roof. It’s insane. The plastic cap just never degrades and the cup just turns into a plastic mush that never degrades,” Neil explains.

But the problems don’t stop there. These coffee cups fill our bins to overflowing, taking up precious bin space and giving people yet another excuse to simply toss unwanted plastic on the floor. Crushing the cup and taking the caps off any empty plastic bottles you have before you put them in the bin is a simple way we can all help make a contribution to keeping our town clean.

Neil does then concede that it is not all doom and gloom. Thank goodness. With lockdown restrictions people have been getting out and walking more and as a result are seeing the litter problem first hand. Neil has been inundated with messages from people wanting to get involved, wanting to help make a difference, which is a huge step in the right direction.

One surprising benefit of lockdown has been the number of youngsters getting involved as part of the Duke of Edinburgh scheme. With few other community-based projects available, many D of E-ers have turned to Neil and have enjoyed it so much, they’ve got their friends to join too. Neil also runs Mini Ninjas, taking youngsters to the rec to litter pick – he bills it a treasure hunt and they have a brilliant time. A new generation of Pride of Stamford litter pickers are taking up the reigns – long may it continue.

If you’d like to get involved with Pride of Stamford, they organise litter picks on the last Sunday of every month. Check out their Facebook page for more details.

Next time we’ll hear more from Neil about local litter hotspots and his latest venture to combat problem areas, Team Stamford.

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