Environment Minister Alex Attwood proved his commitment to cleaning up Northern Ireland at the weekend when he rolled up his sleeves and cleared litter from the shores of Belfast Lough.
He joined around 50 volunteers – including his two daughters Nora and Anna and his nephew Eoin – who braved lashing rain to clean up the beach at Loughshore Park in Jordanstown on Sunday.
Some 40 bags of rubbish were filled and among the haul were a child's trike, a plastic road barrier, a bicycle, a small mountain of plastic bottles, baby wipes, sweet wrappers, aluminium cans and even insoles and a pair of children's socks.
The event was part of our Big Spring Clean campaign. We have joined forces with Tidy Northern Ireland and DoE Rethink Waste to galvanise 50,000 people across Northern Ireland to clean up their areas this spring.
Mr Attwood said: "I fully support initiatives like Tidy Northern Ireland's Big Spring Clean, which make such a significant contribution to making our environment more attractive for both tourists and local people alike.
"I want to send a clear message to those who litter. Litter affects lives in many ways, not only impacting our health and wellbeing, but it also puts off tourists from returning and it stops companies investing in jobs here.
"The popular demand and growing number of volunteers has meant the Big Spring Clean has been extended to 2013 with the support of my department and all the councils.
"During this year's clean-up, volunteers will be asked to separate the litter collected to capture recyclable items which also reinforces the message that waste is a valuable resource. This campaign reinforces my focus on helping to improve our environment and enhance Northern Ireland's clean and green credentials."
The event was held in association with Marks & Spencer and refreshments for the hard workers were provided by Coca Cola.
Tidy Northern Ireland campaign manager Lynsey McCloskey said: "We were thrilled to have the minister and his family here with us to take part in a Big Spring Clean event and they did a great job – rolling up their sleeves and getting stuck in. Last year we had over 27,000 volunteers and this year we are aiming for 50,000, so we would encourage everybody to get involved and follow the minister's example."
Litter picks have been organised across Northern Ireland with help from schools, uniformed youth community groups, The National Trust and other charities such as Mencap, RSPB and Conservation Volunteers as well as businesses such as Sainsbury's, McDonald's and Translink.
Last year the Big Spring Clean mobilised an incredible 26,000 volunteers who lifted 163 tonnes of litter – equivalent to 23 double-decker buses.
This year we've set ourselves an even tougher target – getting 50,000 people to get involved in cleaning up litter hotspots in our towns and countryside.
join the campaign
Joining in the Big Spring Clean is easy. All you need to do is register an event or join an existing event online at www.bigspringcleanni.org, order your free clean-up kit and get stuck in. Don't forget to tell us how successful your event was afterwards. Your local council will help by supplying additional kit and will collect the rubbish gathered. For more information, check out the website, e-mail info@bigspringcleanni. org or call 028 9073 6920.