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Litter shop of horrors

A picturesque, old-fashioned sweet shop, so quaint it could have been pulled straight from the pages of an Enid Blyton novel. Inside, shelves are piled high with incredible edibles and lashings of pop - retro treats and modern classics. 

Visitors to the Forest Of Dean in the summer of 2016 could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled into a time warp. But a closer look would confirm that this pop-up shop was no storybook store, but a museum of waste, stocked with discarded picnic plastics and ‘forest fresh’ trash, pointedly marketed as ‘locally sourced.’

The temporary ‘Con-Venience’ shop installation was an unnerving reminder that 250,000kg of rubbish is dumped in the Forest Of Dean every year. While taxpayers cough up a tidy annual sum of £400,000 to clear rubbish left behind by the annual 1.6 million tourists, The Forestry Commission, an organisation which promotes sustainable forest management, also spends £72,000 a year on waste management. This funds the clearance of dropped litter, fly-tipped waste and full bins throughout the public forest estate in this area.

Blyton’s Famous Five might not dream of littering a splendid picnic spot, but, as community and communications manager for The Forestry Commission, Heather Lilley, explains, today’s visitors sadly have a different attitude. “Plastic bottles and metal cans are a nightmare because they are dumped and just don’t rot. Take away packaging too - people drive to the woods to eat there, dump it and drive on. In the long run, taxpayers are paying for that.”

Heather isn’t the only one to notice an increasingly worrying trend for take away rubbish.  Data from a Local Communities’ Committee Report released in 2015, stated that levels of litter in England have hardly improved in the past 12 years, and that both fast food litter and flytipping incidents increased by 20% in 2014 alone. Clearly a change of approach is needed - fast - to change public opinion about littering.

'Forest fresh' produce

That’s where Hubbub comes in: an environmental charity which takes a more creative approach than traditional litter campaigns. As creative partner Elle Mcall explains “Generally litter campaigns are much more negative and are about fining and not being a litter lout. There’s nothing really that positive or proactive about the messaging. We felt that there was something missing there - there had to be more creative ways of nudging people to do the right thing.”

The result was a five month campaign testing what Elle describes as “playful new ways of tackling rural litter.” Working with Brighton-based artists Dirty Beach, who develop immersive exhibitions using plastic items recovered from beaches, they installed a litter shop in Coleford and a vending machine exhibit in the forest itself. Both were stocked with cleverly rebranded litter, found on the forest floor.

The oldest piece of rubbish found was 33 years old: a crisp packet dating back to 1983 - still recognisable, intact and on the surface level of the forest floor. It begs the question: do people realise how long their litter lasts? According to Elle, that’s one of the main problems: “People don’t necessarily connect their litter with something that’s going to stay here for 20 years, and enter streams and rivers. One of the main aims of this campaign is to ask how can we connect those dots and raise awareness.”

Good riddance to bad rubbish

Alongside the Con-Venience shop, a collaborative ‘Comunitrees’ project also aimed to reduce on-site forest waste. Adopting a police tactic known as ‘the nudge theory’ - the premise that if you are being watched you are more likely to do the right thing - facial sculptures made of discarded rubbish have been placed on trees in forest litter hotspots. These faces now form part of the summer tourist activities, with visitors encouraged to see how many of 50 different tree faces they can tick off on a map designed for the project.

Local school children from a primary school in Lydney, became involved in designing the communitree faces when teacher Jeremy Gazzard began a litter project with his pupils. He explains “We took my class for a walk around the local village of St. Briavels to do a litter pick to kick start the project. It wasn't easy finding litter to begin with, as the village itself was immaculate, however when we arrived at the play park we were soon able to fill our bags. When I asked the children why the litter only seemed to be at the park they deduced that it must be the people who used the park who were littering; mainly children and teenagers.

"We washed and sorted the litter into types of material [and found] plastic was definitely the most common type: crisp bags, plastic bottles and sweet wrappers. [The children] then designed the sculptures using the found litter and other objects destined for landfill, sourced from the Gloucester Resource Centre. They were buzzing with excitement which was wonderful to see.” In fact, Jeremy’s pupils were so enthused by the project that he explains “Their summer holiday homework is to monitor what rubbish goes into their bin, as opposed to the recycling bin, over the course of the summer holidays.”

Trash talk

So how did The Forestry Commission and Hubbub measure the success of the projects? Both by monitoring litter levels and a change in attitudes. With the project wrapped up for the summer, Elle explains, "There was a reduction in local litter levels at the sites where the tree faces were installed. This was measured by bags of litter collected – which by the end of the project was almost zero.

"It has also created new momentum locally  -  76% of people would like to see an expansion of the project and 56% of people surveyed wanted to see more collaboration between existing groups. We’ll be meeting with community groups in early November to look at what Love your Forest and Communitrees project could look like in 2017.“

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Do people realise how long their litter lasts?

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1 Comment


about 4 years ago

What a good idea! My folks live in Coleford and we've spent many happy hours in the Forest of Dean so I think this is a great initiative and such a good idea to 'nudge' people into doing the right thing :-)