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Picking up rural litter is a pretty safe and enjoyable thing to do. However, no piece of litter is worth any sort of injury, so here are the guidelines I follow to stay safe.

Road Safety: picking your spot

Traffic is the biggest risk when litter picking, so choosing your spot is important. To be safe litter picking you need to pick a spot where: In general, it is a case of picking spots where you would feel safe and comfortable going for a walk.

So the following are generally OK:
Safe place to litter pick Safe lane to litter pick
Rural, single track lanes with verges. Wider lanes, with not too much traffic and wide flat verges.
Safe place to litter pick
This is a busy "B" road but it is low-risk if you stay on the pavement.
(NB. It is clear of litter because I'd just filled 2 sacks of it from this hedgerow.)

You should definitely not pick litter:
  • on narrow lanes with no verges;
  • anywhere where cars cannot see you from a distance, such as on a bend or a steep hill;
  • anywhere you cannot get off the road quckly and easily, e.g. steep bank or deep ditch
  • roads with fast two way traffic and no pavements

  • Not a safe place to litter pick
    This is definitely not safe. There are no verges, the banks are too steep and cars can't see you from a distance

    Do not litter pick on main roads (unless you can stay on a wide pavement).

    If you are hard of hearing, you need to be particularly careful because you won't hear approaching cars. If this is the case I would restrict yourself to roads with pavements or very low/slow traffic volumes.

    Road safety: be seen

    I always wear a Hi-Vis waistcoat. They are about 6 each from a Builders Merchant. Alternatively, if you contact the waste department at your local council, they will probably issue one for free.

    Picking Safety

    Rural litter is pretty safe. It is 90% plastic bottles, drinks cans, crisp packets, chocolate wrappers and fast food packaging (see About Rural Litter for pictures of what you will come across). It is very rare to find anything that is dangerous - the worst I have come across is the odd broken bottle. However, to avoid any risks, wear gloves - a pair of leather gardening gloves are fine. You can reduce the risks still further and reduce the amount of bending down involved, by using a litter picker. Again, your Council may well be happy to provide you with gloves and a litter picker.
    Occassionally you will come across something unpleasant, like a used condom or a little green bag of dog faeces. If you do, and this goes for anything unpleasant or dangerous, just don't pick it. If appropriate, e.g. syringes, report it to the Council.


    Picking litter is suprisingly addictive and it is easy to find yourself climbing up banks and into ditches or fighting your way through bushes to reach that last crisp packet. Be careful - it's just not possible to get every last piece of litter. And it's not worth twisting an ankle, ripping your coat or getting poked in the eye by a twig. If it is not in easy reach, just leave it. Remember, if you only pick up one item you are still going to make the place look better.

    Aches and pains

    If you don't use a litter picker picking up litter involves a lot of bending down. If you are not used to this it can result in some muscle aches. It's not too uncomfortable and passes quckly.

    Confronting Litterers

    If you do see someone dropping litter, my advice is DO NOT CONFRONT THEM. You will only be putting yourself at risk of verbal and physical assault. The guys who handout litter fines wear stab proof vests.

    The Golden Rule

    The golden rule of litter picking is:


    So, if there is any doubt in your mind whether a spot is safe for litter picking or it is safe to pick up an item of litter, don't do it - just move on.

    Copyright © Tim Barnes 2008