HOW LITTER PICKING BENEFITS YOUR MENTAL HEALTH: EXPLAINED
Litter picking or beach cleaning is a great way to play your part in tackling the plastic pollution crisis locally, but did you know that it can also improve your mental health and wellbeing?
The act of picking up litter from the ground is a simple action, but also an incredibly important one given that more than two million pieces of litter are dropped in the UK every day. However, its benefits aren’t just limited to the environment.
Public Health England has recommended litter picking as a good way to boost mental and physical health, and there is a growing body of scientific research to support this. At Waterhaul, we’ve experienced first hand how recovering plastic pollution from the Cornish coastline makes us feel good and so we thought it was worth delving into the science to explore why.
Given that litter picking has no age limit and can be carried out in any location, it is a very accessible activity, and can even be prescribed by health practitioners to improve people's wellbeing (known as green social prescribing). It can be something to keep the kids occupied, a group bonding activity for colleagues, a way for you to get outside and spend time in nature or an event anyone can get involved in with their local environmental group. So with all that in mind, how does litter picking help to improve your mental well-being?
1. Litter Picking keeps you active
Litter picking is a perfect excuse to get outside for some fresh air!
The benefits of physical activity for our mental health are well known, as well as its ability to improve sleep, and create feelings of improved self-efficacy and confidence1. Litter picking is the perfect physical activity for those wanting to be more active and it can be taken at whatever pace suits you.
It is also great if you prefer to have a purpose to your visit to the park or the beach, giving that sense of motivation to get out and get those steps in. This allows you to enjoy the physical and mental benefits of litter picking, whilst also exploring new places you might not have ventured before.
Already active? Why not try adding a new dynamic to your exercise by incorporating quick litter picks into your outdoors adventures (we recommend compact, folding litter pickers for this), or perhaps even through plogging (a Swedish trend, consisting of a combination of jogging and picking up litter!).
2. Litter Picking keeps you in the present
Litter picking is a great way to switch off and live in the present.
Searching for litter requires some level of concentration which can distract you from worrisome thoughts. This can help you to live in the present moment, as opposed to your mind wandering into unwanted thoughts of the past or future.
A scientific study explored this, focusing on how the process of litter picking can be used as a tool in art therapy in an attempt to bridge the psychological barriers to engagement with the outer world. Findings showed that the process of searching for discarded items made it easier for the individual to live in the present moment and helped to connect the outside world to their personal inner world.
Read the study in full here2 or get outside and try it for yourself with your litter picker!
3. Litter Picking creates a sense of community
Litter picks are ideal for meeting new people in your local communities.
Whilst solo litter picks are always a brilliant option, there are also plenty of opportunities to share the experience with others.
Taking part in a local litter pick and actively spending time participating in your community can help you meet new people and enhance your sense of belonging. Establishing that sense of community can be important for overall health and wellbeing, particularly for individuals experiencing loneliness and isolation, which has become even more widespread due to the pandemic.
Scientific studies have documented the benefits of this involvement for those with serious mental illnesses3, however, the health and social benefits are relevant for us all.
If you want to get involved in any litter picks with environmental organisations, here are some of our recommendations:
• Cleanup UK
• Clean Up Britain
• Surfers Against Sewage
• Marine Conservation Society
• Beach Guardian
4. Litter Picking is easy to fit into a busy lifestyle
Whether your litter pick takes 2 minutes, 20 minutes or 2 hours, every piece of litter removed from the environment makes a difference!
With all the environmental challenges we face, it can be overwhelming to know where to start to be part of creating positive change.
Litter picking however, is a perfect meaningful activity that gives quick and rewarding satisfaction, allowing you to make a small but important impact in a short space of time. Litter picking provides anyone with the ability to drive positive change in their local environment. This adds an element of control, in a world where helplessness can be a common feeling shared amongst us.
A great organisation is The 2 Minute Foundation, who encourage and inspire you to take two minutes of your time to clean up the planet. This is a great idea if you have a busy schedule but still want to see a planet without litter and plastic pollution – plus you might find one of our litter pickers made from recycled fishing nets on their beachside stands!
5. Doing good feels good!
Cleaning up the environment is a rewarding feeling!
Littering picking can bring that feel-good factor, as it provides a sense of achievement and can really boost your mood. With negative news cycles and rising eco-anxiety, we need this now more now than ever.
By providing exposure to the natural environment, evidence has shown that those who litter pick can obtain a variety of psychological health benefits such as reduced stress, restored cognitive ability, and increased connection to nature4.
We find litter picking can be particularly rewarding after stormy weather, which is also a time when people have typically been locked up indoors. It can be especially reinvigorating to head to the coastline after wild weather, when lots of plastic pollution has washed ashore.
So, there you have it! Little effort is required and important benefits are gained, why not give it a try? And of course, don't forget to equip yourself with our recycled litter picking gear before you go!
1. Physical activity and mental health: the association between exercise and mood, Peluso and Guerra de Andrade, 2005
2. Found objects in art therapy, Brooker 2010
3. The influence of sense of community on the relationship between community participation and mental health for individuals with serious mental illnesses, Terry et al., 2018
4. The beach as a setting for families’ health promotion: A qualitative study with parents and children living in coastal regions in Southwest England, Ashbullby et al., 2013
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