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Cleaning up roadside litter - focus on Stirling A9

'Take it home!' urges Stirling Council, as 330 bags of litter cleared.

The early spring, with longer days, better weather and just before the vegetation starts to grow back, is an ideal time to clean up litter.

Last week, Stirling Council's Roads and Land Services Team were out on the A9 doing just that.

Fifteen operatives worked over two days to remove litter left along the roadside from the Keir Roundabout up to the Balhaldie Services at the Council boundary. Around 330 bags of litter, have now been taken to Lower Polmaise’ where they will be processed.

Cleaning up roadsides is not a simple operation and it is not an activity that the team looks forward to. Previously they have appealed to local residents, visitors and motorists to dispose of litter responsibly, after they removed a massive two tonnes of litter from the A9 verges last year. This year, they were more than happy to get on board with our campaign message, telling drivers to 'Give your litter a lift, take it home'.

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We caught up with Stirling Council's Kevin McCormick, who coordinated the operation. He gives us the scoop from the side of those who have to clean our roads up.

Could you tell us a bit about your role? What department are you in and what does your remit normally cover?
I’m a Land Services Officer and work within our Roads and Land Service. My role covers, Street Cleaning, Grounds Maintenance and the Countryside Ranger Service.  In terms of Street Cleaning, I cover half the Council area, have two Supervisors and around 20 operatives. Day to day tasks include answering customer & elected member enquiries, managing fleet and staff & conducting LEAMS surveys.

How does litter picking roads fit in with your work? How often do you and your team clear litter from roads?
Street Cleaning operates seven days a week, with the squads clearing litter from roads, verges, open spaces, parks, play areas, cemeteries, as well as emptying all litter bins.  We have a squad solely dedicated to litter picking verges on all main arterial routes in and out of Stirling. We find these can be the most heavily littered areas with the volume of traffic.

What’s involved in clearing litter from a road like the A9?
Given this is a 70mph road, litter picking the A9 comes with an elevated level of risk. We have to hire a specialised impact reception vehicle and our operatives have to be vigilant and ensure they are visible to the traffic. We also have to make sure the conditions are right, in terms of weather and day light hours. If the conditions aren’t in our favour, then we simply can’t do it.

What is the worst thing about litter picking the roadsides?
The worst thing about litter picking verges, is the risk this puts our operatives under.  The other thing that is disheartening about litter picking verges, is the volume of litter and the types of litter we find on the verges, such as dirty nappies, or bottles of urine. And even as we come through to pick up the bags we've collected, we find new litter already starting to build up.

Judging by the types of litter that you find, where do you think it is coming from?
Most of the litter found on road verges is cans and bottles, which are bought from shops and fast food outlets. Laybys are a particular problem area and can often be full of fast food waste where people have discarded the items out of their window.

Is it ever possible to completely clear the roadside of litter? If not, why?
It’s a difficult task. And, for instance, litter that accumulates on steep embankments can be impossible to reach.  Councils are taking preventative measures in terms of enforcement and awareness raising, as well as the normal reactive maintenance. I don’t think this will ever eradicate the problem, however if we work hard enough I’m sure we can encourage an effective culture change to minimise the problem.

What bothers you most about roadside litter?
It’s important to clean up roadside litter for a range of reasons. In a role where I’m responsible for maintaining environmental quality, I’m keen that we continue to do so to the best of our ability. In particular, our arterial routes are important to keep clean as this has an effect on our cities visual appearance. Stirling is a growing city and we need to be doing all we can to attract people to live, work and stay here.

What do you think is the best way to put an end to roadside litter?
In my opinion the most effective way to tackle any form of littering is through awareness raising and enforcement. Whilst enforcement may seem heavy handed, I think most people who have been issued a fine won’t be in a rush to drop litter again. The good thing is that the vast majority of people don’t drop litter.  What I would say to anyone who litters from a vehicle, would be to think about the cost of what they're doing i.e. the risk they put our staff under, the financial cost to collect it and the effects this has on other council services.

Littering can be accidental or intentional. The former is par for the course, but the latter puts unnecessary strain on those responsible for maintaining our environmental quality. 

Going forward, Keep Scotland Beautiful will support Stirling Council through our roadside litter campaign, to help stem the flow of litter onto the A9 and other local roads.

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14 April 2017

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