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What’s litter got to do with climate change?

A blog post by Barry Fisher

Most people have an environmental pet hate. Some people don’t like litter and dog poo. Others hate to see a light left on when no one is in the room or a diesel car engine left running in a car park.

As a charity our three main aims are to protect and enhance places, to combat climate change and to tackle litter and waste.

With the UN Climate Change Conference, COP26, being hosted here in Scotland, in our largest city this month, the climate crisis is becoming a more urgent topic of conversation for people. It is seen as the biggest threat to our species and our world.

Meanwhile, preparing a city and a country to receive 120 World Leaders and the entourage that surrounds COP26 has also brought to the fore the cleanliness of our cities and criticism of those who work hard to deal with the problem – volunteers and local authority employees.

COP26 has unwittingly brought the challenges we are working hard to address together.

Scotland is beautiful, but we know it is also scarred in places by litter and waste. We know that we have set ambitious climate targets as a nation, but we acknowledge we need to do more. Much more. Both here and across the world.

I was delighted to join our international colleagues – Foundation for Environmental Education – this week as we delivered a session at the COP26 Green Zone about the “Power of Networks” to address the key environmental challenges of our day.  In the session there were contributions from around the globe and, unsurprisingly the concept of pollution and litter was a common theme.  This is a global, but yet, very local issue that effects everyone across the world – and yet we can do something about it every day.

What has become clearer over the past weeks is that we must stop alluding to all these emergencies in a stand-alone way.  The Climate Emergency. The Nature Emergency. The looming Litter Emergency. Because, they are really one and the same are they not?

So often we put our blinkers on and deal with carbon emissions alone. But, we must remember, and remind others of the complexity and interlinkage of the issues that have led us here.

We must acknowledge that one of the key drivers of poor local environmental quality caused by litter and flytipping is the same unsustainable use of resources which is driving the climate crisis. This is clearly exemplified by the multitudes of disposable items which are used just once before being carelessly disposed of as litter.   

We must all consider what we buy, when, how we use it, when we reuse it and how we dispose of it. We must think about the carbon footprint of a plastic yolk from four tinnies as well as the impact it can have when littered entangling our wildlife.

Sometimes it is about the bigger picture.

Biodiversity loss, resource scarcity, pollution, overconsumption, inequality all these issues are interlinked. The one common denominator. Us. People. The one solution. Us. People.

Collectively we can make a difference. We need to open our eyes, to take a more holistic approach and stop compartmentalising the issues.

We all have it in us to change our behaviour. To consider alternatives to the way we currently live our lives. We just need to act. And act now.

We all want a positive outcome from COP26, but even without political agreement, we can make a difference and combat climate change and tackle litter now.

And we are here to support you with our activities, now, during and post COP26.

We support the