A local group of litter-picking volunteers says there’s been an increase in discarded personal protective equipment (PPE), bottles and cans, as the national lockdown stretches on.

RiverCare Grantham have found an increase in bottles, cans, and discarded PPE, a new form of litter. Photo: RiverCare Grantham, used with permission.

RiverCare Grantham controls the litter along the River Witham. They’ve been working for 20 years, and are the longest-running group in Lincolnshire.

An analysis of their litter-pick surveys showed that 88% of operations carried out during the summer last year found at least one face mask or disposable glove.

David Martin, one of the leaders of the group, said: “We collected 20 face masks last year. That was from July to October, only out of 8 clean-ups that we did. You can pretty much guarantee every time we go out to litter-pick, we find face masks.”

He went on to say he never thought PPE would be an issue the group had to deal with.

“This time last year, we had never seen one and had never envisioned having this problem. It’s a case of educating people that this is wrong.”

Catherine Holborn, project officer for 50 Lincolnshire groups, including RiverCare Grantham, said that discarded PPE has now become a sad normality.

“When the pandemic first started, it was a shock to see face masks and gloves, but now it’s become normal to just pick them up off the floor,” she said.

Pub closures have led to an increase in discarded bottles and cans, too. Mr Martin expressed his frustration towards this.

“If you can carry a 12 pack of beer to a park and drink it, you can quite easily carry 12 crushed cans home,” he said.

The group, which was unable to carry out clean-up operations from February to July last year, due to storms and the first lockdown, estimates it picks about 750 kilograms of waste every year.

“It varies from the smallest thing of a cigarette butt to a TV. You name it, we’ve probably found it,” Mr Martin said.

Ian Simmons, the other leader of RiverCare Grantham, said: “We estimate 20 tonnes of rubbish has come out of the river since 2004. Can you imagine what the river would be like if the effort hadn’t been made to take that out?

“The message to the public is: please don’t litter; it will come back to bite you,” said Ian Simmons, co-leader of RiverCare Grantham. Photo: RiverCare Grantham, used with permission.

As well as the importance of the work, the common goal brings volunteers together.

Ms Holborn said the group has a real community feel to it, which is vital during the pandemic.

“It’s fantastic for the well-being of people coming along. They can’t get out, but they can talk to each other. It really knits everything together in a heart-warming way.”

The group will continue to clean the river and gather data about discarded items, though the current lockdown makes it more difficult.

“We intend to use the data that comes from the surveys to see how the levels vary over time, and use that information to implement behavioural measures that will mitigate river pollution,” Ms Holborn explained.

Mr Simmons hopes the group can reason with members of the public.

“Anything that gets chucked in the river will essentially end up in the North Sea and go into your food chain. It’s from the little things to the bigger things,” he said.

“The message to the public is: please don’t litter; it will come back to bite you.”

RiverCare Grantham is in the final stages of Lincolnshire Co-op’s Community Championships 2021 funding opportunity. The winning cause will be announced in the spring.

By Eleanor Maslin

News Editor at The Linc.