Making Public Spaces More Enjoyable for Everyone
The Outdoor Collective is an emerging grassroots movement running out of Auckland in New Zealand. Their primary objective is a simple one – picking up rubbish. But the philosophy behind it is more complex: it’s about keeping active, keeping public spaces beautiful, and encouraging people to think about how they treat waste in a wider sense – to consciously accept that dealing with waste is a collective responsibility.
You may have seen one of them in your neighbourhood already, modestly going about their work, building up a sweat as they clean the streets, parks, beaches and trails of the refuse that others casually ignore. They’re looking for yesterday’s Coke can jammed into a hedge, the scattered cigarette butts underneath a park bench, the sheet of cling film buried in the sand at your favourite beach.
The movement began on New Year’s Day 2015, when founder and Auckland local, Andrew Crowe, picked up a piece of litter while on holiday in South Australia and was immediately thanked by a passing cyclist. “It was surprising. I hadn’t thought that such a small act deserved thanks, but it dawned on me that it’s actually something the community values. I’d been environmentally-minded for a number of years and wanted to take the next step to something meaningful and with noticeable impacts. When that cyclist thanked me, I realised I was onto something.”
Since then the concept has evolved into organising group events, mixing exercise with environmentalism and making use of a crowdsourcing element to mobilise more than one pair of hands. “We constantly come across people who pick up rubbish, who do their bit without expecting thanks. So we’ve used social media to start a hub for these people to post images or videos of their collections and credit them for their effort, as well as bringing them together in the real world.”
Environmental issues, especially climate change, are a familiar media topic. Andrew says the Outdoor Collective is about cutting through the chit-chat and getting it done. “People may be divided on environmental issues, but I think most people agree that litter ruins our enjoyment of public spaces. No one wants to spend a day on a litter-covered beach. There’s always talk of being green, but it’s often difficult to gauge progress when most of the supposed change happens outside our field of vision. With litter it’s more clear-cut – anyone can pick it up, and everyone can see and enjoy the benefits.”
Unfortunately, some have no qualms with spoiling our natural spaces, and the Outdoor Collective team has seen some shocking displays of littering. “It’s difficult not let your blood boil at the selfishness and disregard of others,” says Andrew. “But you just need to focus on the positives and lead by example. There’s an element of groupthink to it: if people see others acting with apathy towards littering, they’ll follow. But if people see organised groups out there doing their bit, maybe they’ll think twice about dropping rubbish and instead pick up a piece or two.”
And that’s what they’ve noticed happening a lot more, with photos of inspired rubbish pick-ups coming in from elsewhere in NZ as well as further afield, like a recent picture from a Tasmanian forest. “Before seeing what we were doing, those people would most likely have just walked on by, like most do. It’s that sense of community and encouragement that keeps people involved.”
Over time, as The Outdoor Collective grows its presence within New Zealand and abroad, it intends to reach out for corporate or local government sponsorship to assist with funding its activities and further engaging the community. “We believe that the brands whose rubbish is so often strewn around the place have a degree of responsibility for where their products end up. Working with us would be a great way to demonstrate that they’re addressing the issue.
“It’s interesting that the most common types of litter we find are cigarette butts or packets, fast food wrappers and alcohol cans or bottles, especially RTDs,” says Andrew. “You can almost guarantee that we’ll pick them up every time we head out on a collection. You don’t need to be any kind of genius to see the correlation between how people treat their bodies and their regard for the planet or the health of our shared public spaces.”
If you are interested in collaborating for a fitter, healthier planet, you can follow The Outdoor Collective on Facebook or Instagram, but more importantly, you can send start making your own rubbish collections and share them with the community, they’d love to see them!