The group of nearly 3,000 volunteers spend many hours collecting hundreds of bags worth of rubbish every week across Sheffield, dealing with everything from picking up packaging to backbreaking work like removing fly tipped furniture.
This week the city saw residents flock to parks to enjoy its sunniest day so far this year but the scenes following the sunshine were shocking as places like Endcliffe Park were carpeted in beer bottles, plastic bags, pizza boxes and other waste.
Iren Worth, who has been litter picking her entire adult life and joined Sheffield Litter Pickers when she moved to Sheffield in 2017, said there are pickers out every day but problems were constant.
She said: “It’s dreadful. It’s awful. I’m just sitting in Lowedges at the moment and I’m surrounded by litter.
“There are hotspots where it’s a constant problem and nothing much is really being done about it so people are quite easily getting away with it and carrying on doing it because there is no deterrent and very little enforcement.
“We just need to get the message out there and educate people that it’s not acceptable, it’s anti-social, it’s not community spirited and it’s important for the environment, wildlife and your neighbourhood.
“Lots of people join our group because the littering and fly tipping is so bad they think they have to do something about it.
“People find it upsetting, every time we go out people say ‘please can the council do something, can’t they get cameras up’. It’s very frustrating and actually does affect people’s mental health and people have said to me they are so depressed seeing it every time they come home and want to move. It’s that serious, it’s a big issue.”
Ms Worth said the key to combating the problem was making it easier for people to dispose of their rubbish properly and being hard on those who do not follow the rules.
Their number one demand is for the council to improve the city’s household waste recycling centres including longer opening hours and allowing tradesmen to dump their commercial waste there.
At present, the city’s five tips are only open for six hours a day and only one is open seven days a week. This increases to eight hours in the summer but it is still restrictive compared to other cities like Leeds which has eight sites open seven days a week for eight hours in winter and 10 hours in summer.
Sheffield Council finally listened to this call and on Wednesday announced that it will extend its opening hours and make the tips available every day but there is still more that needs to be done to tackle the problems.
Secondly, Sheffield Litter Pickers want to see the return of Bring Out Your Rubbish days and regular skips in areas where there is a high turnover of residents, especially coordinated with times like the end of the student term when thousands of people are looking to ditch lots of items before moving but often do not have the means to do so.
Thirdly, but by no means least, they want better enforcement. Fly tipping is illegal and those caught can be fined up to £50,000 or face 12 months in prison. It is also a criminal offence to drop litter or throw it from a car, which carries an instant £80 fine. But the group said there was very little enforcement outside of the city centre where rubbish was most rife.
They said the council focuses its enforcement in the city centre and mostly on cracking down on people dropping cigarettes or crisp packets. So they want to see enforcement officers in real hotspots and cameras to catch culprits, then upon catching and punishing criminals, publicity of cases to deter others from doing the same.
These issues are discussed by the pickers on a regular basis but last week they were able to highlight the problems with the council directly in a meeting of the economic and environmental wellbeing scrutiny and policy development committee.
In the meeting, Lina Ball, of Sheffield Litter Pickers said fly tipping was “absolutely off the scale” and warned of the city’s parks becoming a “giant bin” when Covid-19 restrictions are lifted in summer.
She said: “The problem of litter is not an insignificant one. It’s not to be underestimated. It is really affecting people and people want to move away if conditions are bad and we know people have moved away because they just couldn’t stand it anymore. So it needs a lot of thought and perhaps some experimentation, trying different things to see what works and definitely not carrying on as we are.”
Richard Teasdale, of Hackenthorpe Litter Pickers, also spoke at the meeting and said there needed to be more joined up thinking with the council and Amey working together with litter pickers to solve the problems.
He said: “Litter is very much a visceral, emotional thing. People move away from it, they are disgusted by it, they are depressed by it.
“On an emotional level I think it is a really serious problem.
“Yes, I am one of the litter pickers but I can honestly say I dread to think what the city of Sheffield would look like without this vast army of volunteers cleaning up after residents.
“It’s pretty bad in a lot of areas anyway but without the volunteers it would be horrific. It really is as simple as that.”
Sheffield Council was contacted for comment.