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Undercover Litter Picker

Originally appears in the Spring 2016 issue


The Litter Picker’s Creed

Every item a tale to tell

how it came to be not doing so well.

An identity-shift from bright package to trash

accomplished in a twinkling.


Their natural development – onward recycling –

I’ll forward as best I may.

Retrieve from places they shouldn’t be

items battered, broken, each day.


So every item a new tale to tell,

how it’s doing better these days.

Recycled, reclaimed, the latest craze –

quite sure it will do rather well!


‘Can I help? asked 15-year-old Roxanne. ‘I like to help.’  I looked up from my litter-picking, quite sure an angel had just descended on the beach. For a teenager to approach an adult, particularly a stranger, with such an offer, felt miraculous.  About to embark on her Duke of Edinburgh Award, awards that recognise adolescents and young adults for completing a series of self-improvement exercises, Roxanne decided to include litter-picking as part of its remit. I went to see her parents, who at first appeared to be happy with the idea, but it turned out that was not the case.

This is how I learned litter-picking has a stigma attached to it. If I wanted to involve young people in litter-picking, I needed to go much further than I had done so far. I recalled how I got into litter-picking myself. Three years ago, U.K. television presenter, Griff Rhys-Jones, had climbed Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales, wearing a jacket with the moniker Griff the Garbage emblazoned on it. He did this in the company of Ron the Rubbish. The image of these two men taking such an upfront stance, and in a humorous way, went deep with me. I wrote to the local council, offering to clean up my local patch if they would provide a jacket, litter picker and gloves. It was with huge delight I put on the high visibility jacket announcing my new identity – Gaia the Garbage.

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Ann Palmer is a former headteacher turned writer who champions earthcentric grass-roots led campaigns. She teaches occasional residential Nature Writing courses for the U.K. Field Studies Council.


[i] Sir Ken Robinson – TED talk recorded at TED2006 – How Schools Kill Creativity –

[ii] Two Minute Beach Clean –

[iii] New York Zero Tolerance of Graffiti Policy –

[iv] Ann Palmer, article, Earthcentrism of existence.html

Ann Palmer, ebook 2015. Earthcentrism: 100 questions, 1,000 answers: a Primer in Integrated Thinking,

[v] Jean Houston, The Possible Human (Jeremy P Tarcher/Putnam 1997)

[vi] Dina Glouberman, Life Choices and Life Changes through Imagework (Unwin Paperbacks 1989)