SURE student Zhuohan Xie recounts her experience this summer of conducting research into cleanliness in Sheffield's parks.

Zhuohan in action in Mount Pleasant Park!

Zhuohan in action in Mount Pleasant Park!

I am a student in the Department of Landscape, University of Sheffield. I did my SURE project - SURE stands for Sheffield Undergraduate Research Experience - evaluating  the quality of green spaces in Sheffield with my tutor Nicola Dempsey. My research project focused on litter in parks which contributes significantly to people’s perceptions of green space quality. There are three reasons for the cleanliness research. Firstly, it is one of the criteria in Sheffield City Council’s evaluation of green space quality the Sheffield Standard. Secondly, the most recent statistics of green space quality evaluation provided by Sheffield City Council (Fig.1) was 2008 and we felt that an updated evaluation was needed for 2017. Thirdly, as the Keep Britain Tidy argues that ‘much of the litter we throw away has a visual impact on natural and built environments, but the environmental impact of litter goes much further than aesthetics’. A recent survey revealed that 57% of people in England consider litter to be a problem in their area and people primarily blame the litterer for this.

Fig 1. Dark green= poor quality and light green=high quality scores for cleanliness (2008)

Fig 1. Dark green= poor quality and light green=high quality scores for cleanliness (2008)

Nicola and I chose 12 parks to observe and collect primary data around litter according to the Government guidance (Planning Policy Guidance 17). According to these criteria, we selected 4 parks that scored ‘good quality’, 4 parks ‘average’ and 4 ‘poor quality’ in 2008 . Of these parks, a sub-group of three, Weston Park, Crookes Valley Park and Ponderosa (Fig.2), were focused on in more detail for this research. For these three sub-group parks, I visited parks and collected data at 10 am (after Parks staff do their cleaning) and 6 pm (peak time within one day) every day for a week during the summer. For all the other parks, I observed the parks and collected data 7 times in total after 6pm for each park within a 3-week period to capture the levels of litter after at least one day’s use. After collecting the primary data, I also observed what factors were influencing the amount of litter, including the surrounding environment (type of bins, location), weather condition, users, littering behaviour, cleanliness management etc.

The three parks I examined in more detail: Weston Park, Crookes Valley Park and Ponderosa

The three parks I examined in more detail: Weston Park, Crookes Valley Park and Ponderosa

The cleanliness scores differed according to the quantity of litter and what kind of litter was found in the parks. The overall result of cleanliness of these parks are very similar to the result of green space quality by Sheffield City Council in 2008. Some of the parks are still in good condition, such as Weston Park and the Botanical Gardens. However, some of the cleanliness has improved a lot in my observation through new regeneration. For example, Mount Pleasant Park, and what is now Heeley People’s Park were in poor quality in 2008 and have now changed to good quality of cleanliness with almost no litter. The Ponderosa and Bole Hill continued to score low for cleanliness with particular problems with dog mess.

I counted 9 different types of litter. As shown below, the majority of items littered are food packaging and plastic bags/drinks though paper items were the single biggest contributor (this includes tissues, leaflets, receipts, transport tickets, paper bags and serviettes).

Cigarette butts accounted for the majority of litter during mornings which were found near seating areas. Because there were no cigarette bins in this park, only general bins next to the benches, it was clearly not always convenient park users to dispose of their cigarette butts in the bins.

Example of the score sheets I created and used in the parks.

Example of the score sheets I created and used in the parks.

Different time periods and types of users influenced the result of cleanliness. For instance, in Weston Park, during the morning (9.30am-11am), most visitors used the site mainly for transit purposes, mostly walking (but some cycling) from neighbouring areas to the campus area or towards the city centre. During afternoons and evenings, large numbers of visitors stayed in middle lawn for leisure (e.g. to picnic and barbecue). Unsurprisingly, compared with the mornings, I found a large amount of litter near the middle lawn area in the evenings. Overall, Weston Park had a good quality in cleanliness. The cleanliness of the Ponderosa on the other hand was not very high compared to Weston Park. I found that most people visited there for dog walking in the morning and children used the lawn and football pitch after school. So, I found that dog mess in the morning and lots of food packaging after 6pm were the main problems in this park. In Crookes Valley Park, the amount of litter increased dramatically when the children visited after school and during weekends.  

litter type.JPG
Sheffield City Council staff clearing the litter in Weston Park

Sheffield City Council staff clearing the litter in Weston Park

The weather was another factor which influenced the number of visitors and cleanliness. According to my observations in Weston Park, the weather was mostly sunny (between 20-25°), however, the temperature during 17th-19th increased to around 30° during the day, which increased the number of visitors during evening and afternoon for e.g. BBQs, ball game, family gatherings, social interaction. The number of people was clearly a factor contributing to the large amount of litter found on these days.

There were some hot days during my SURE project - and a lot of litter!

There were some hot days during my SURE project - and a lot of litter!

Through the observation within several weeks, for some good quality parks, the regular cleaning management is done by 10am everyday by Sheffield City Council. However, some parks are cleaned twice a week in middle quality parks. I found that litter which accumulated in corners and along the edge of the park boundary was never cleaned or removed. My

I summarised some recommendation after this research for cleanliness management.  

1. Providing bins of sufficient size (i.e. bigger than they currently are!)

2. Creating an attractive design for bins, making it fun for kids to use them

3. Designing and creating regular signs around the parks to help keep them tidy

4. Increasing the provision of cigarette bins throughout the parks

5. Introduce more types of recycling bins throughout of parks

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