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Data drives decisions

A blog post by Barry Fisher

Our Chief Executive Barry Fisher explains why date drives decisions in our work against the looming litter emergency.

Over the past few years, Keep Scotland Beautiful has warned of a looming litter emergency.  We know the environmental issue is escalating and that people care, because our data from the past 20 years tells us so.

The data from polling research highlights that 88% of Scots agree litter is a problem across Scotland.

The data from thousands of transects our experienced assessors survey each year, recording the presence of litter, dog fouling, flytipping and other illegal antisocial behaviours, tells us the environmental quality nationally, and in local neighbourhoods is in decline.

And the data from those who care enough about the growing problem in their communities to get out there and survey the problem for us, paints the same picture.

We understand from this information what is driving our litter problem, where the problems are worst and what effective solutions might be.

We were heartened that double the number of responses expected were made to the recent Scottish Government consultation on a revised Litter and Flytipping Strategy for Scotland.  It shows that people, businesses and organisations care. 

And we know on the back of our recent Spring Clean, where more than 5,000 people pledged to collect litter, that not only are the public engaged in the matter, they are keen to take action to tackle it.

But we also know that more needs to be done. Urgently.

The data we have confirms for example, that food and drinks packaging are persistent forms of litter in Scotland. This suggests that the banning of certain single use items could potentially form part of an effective response to the looming litter emergency.   We know that as we move towards any future Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme, where producers may have to pay for the costs of correct management of their products when they become waste, we will need to know what products are being littered and not reused, recycled or repurposed.

We also know that local environmental quality is poor in deprived neighbourhoods, and that street cleanliness in more urban local authorities, where there are more people, is generally lower than in more rural ones. In recent months, our data has also highlighted the worrying prevalence of single use face coverings as litter in our streets and open spaces.  Data collection and constant review uncovers trends that can be addressed through campaigns specific to problems and local areas.

We have recently started working with North Lanarkshire Council targeting roadside litter, and supporting community action through clean up, and we are piloting our literate training course with communities through Glasgow City Council.  These partnerships are utilising local data to tackle issues relevant to their communities and we need to increase and build on these partnerships as we look to the future.  

I’ve said it before and will echo it again - litter should be one of the easiest environmental problems to solve – everyone is able to bin their litter or take it home.  We have the data, we have the evidence of the problem, and we know that if we use this efficiently that collectively we can make a difference.

Together we can use the evidence we have to stop the looming litter emergency.

*First published in the Scotsman on 3 May 2022

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