Preston’s fight against face mask littering

Credit: Rebekah Stevenson

A group in Preston is working to keep local streets free from discarded face masks.

Litter picking is no new task for members of Preston Green Volunteers group, but now the group face the challenge of picking up face masks too.

Rebekah Stevenson, Environmental Volunteers Officer for Preston City Council, started noticing more face masks were being reported by members of the group during the summer.

It wasn’t until September when Miss Stevenson decided to create a collage of some of the masks, which volunteers collected.

She said: “I noticed that suddenly there were all these masks being picked up, so I made a point of asking people to photograph the masks when they picked them and then we made that collage.”

The collage was created to raise awareness of the increasing number of masks that weren’t being properly thrown away.

Miss Stevenson said: “I wanted to see if we could even document enough litter in Preston.

“Sadly, we did manage to make a successful collage.”

One volunteer of the group, Janet Stocks, 66, from Preston, has been litter picking with the group since March 2019 because she felt “fed up with looking at the rubbish.”

Janet helped Miss Stevenson with her collage after noticing a large number of masks around stores and industrial areas of Fulwood.

She said: “I have a conscience, I live here, and I don’t like the rubbish.

“People should take responsibility for their own rubbish.”

Since August, Janet has collected over 130 disposable and re-usable masks in her small patch of Fulwood.

Face mask littering also affects the climate and wildlife.

Sonia Phillips, Chair of Climate Action Preston, works to help the council create climate action plans for the city.

She said: “When I look at masks being dropped on the floor; I think the person who has put that there isn’t thinking in the right way about how we need to respect the environment.

“There are issues around wildlife coming across litter, getting tangled and then being harmed by that.”

Mrs Phillips believes the increase of face masks being thrown onto the streets has wider implications for the planet.

She said: “It’s evidence that people are not considering the environment, are not considering the planet in the right kind of way.

“We really need to reconsider our relationship with the natural world.”

Miss Stevenson believes litter picking, including picking up face masks, can be done by anyone as long are they are doing so safely.

Credit: Preston City Council

She said: “I think that it’s so important for volunteers to keep safe and follow social distancing restrictions, there’s lots of people in Preston who want to help litter picking but they just don’t know how.

“Our volunteers make a priceless contribution to the upkeep of Preston’s streets and green spaces.

“The commitment and enthusiasm are invaluable, and Preston wouldn’t be the same without them.”

For more information on how to get involved with the group, or advice on current guidelines, visit the website.