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Have #YourSayOnLitter - we plan to...

A blog post by Barry Fisher

When I joined Keep Scotland Beautiful two years ago, I was aware that litter was a problem across Scotland.  But I certainly didn’t understand the true and vast scale of the problem. And, I couldn’t have foreseen the new #covidlitter that would come to be synonymous with our throwaway lifestyles and pure disregard for our environment and each other.

Since taking on the role of CEO in 2020 I have spoken with many of you from across the country.  I have listened.  And, I have heard just how frustrated you are by the litter in your communities. And rightly so.

Our recently published research shows that 88% of Scots agree that litter is a problem across Scotland and 70% are concerned about the issue in their own neighbourhoods.

For almost 20 years our team of trained assessors have carried out annual surveys across Scotland. They record the presence of litter, dog fouling, graffiti and other indicators of local environmental quality.

The evidence shows a worrying trend of decline, specifically in urban areas, which matches with the public perception of litter in Scotland.

We’ve been working for decades, with partners, to tackle the many complex behaviours that drive these trends and make it easy for people to do the right thing.  We know that there isn’t a quick, or cheap, fix. 

We know that almost everyone has an opinion on litter - about why people litter and what needs to be done to tackle the behaviours that lead to litter.  So, we are pleased that the Scottish Government launched a consultation on a new National Litter and Flytipping Strategy for Scotland in December 2021. 

Now we all have a chance to make our voices heard on how Scotland should tackle the looming litter emergency.

As a charity that works tirelessly to tackle litter, we have opinions too and we welcome our opportunity to have our say on litter.

The consultation is based around seven objectives and as we work up our final response, we felt it would be useful to share some of our key thoughts as we encourage you to have #YourSayOnLitter too. 

Objective 1: Understand litter perceptions and behaviour to allow targeted approaches to be developed.

We believe that further research is required to understand the range of littering behaviours across various contexts and audience groups. There have been a number of very good studies carried out since the 1970s but over the past two decades there have been limited studies in Scotland. We know that every community has its own challenges, perceptions of the problem and indeed behaviours to address for example, there are unique places and environments across our beautiful country that are impacted in different ways at different times of year. This was particularly highlighted in 2020 and 2021 with higher numbers of visitors accessing more remote beauty spots not always geared up to deal with the waste and litter generated.

Objective 2: Develop and adopt a shared approach between Scottish Government, local authorities, public agencies and the third sector, to litter prevention and behaviour change across Scotland.

Many people I speak with believe that a national, sustained anti-littering behaviour change campaign will make a difference. Over the years we have run a number of campaigns, but these have all been short term and limited by budgets, meaning they have not been robustly tested on the ground for impact. Our report, published in December 2020, called for the development and implementation of a sustained, Scotland-wide campaign with consistent messaging to make littering unacceptable. We are keen to see the existing Scotland is Stunning campaign sustained as part of the fightback against litter, and know, from discussions with others in different countries, that national campaigns are more likely to succeed in embedding behaviour change if they are consistent and rolled out over a generation.

Since the pandemic, we have worked more collaboratively with Zero Waste Scotland, The Scottish Government and other public bodies and third sector organisations to ensure that our respective messages align and are complementary in their reach and impact. This positive move forward must be capitlised on.

Our latest research positively highlighted a clear appetite from those surveyed for greater action to tackle and prevent litter in Scotland, with particular support for improving waste disposal facilities and educational campaigns.

Objective 3: Improve our understanding of the sources, amount, and composition of litter.

We know that we need to review available litter data and reach an agreement between stakeholders on a common approach to data collection. We also know that we need to measure to manage.  Gathering high-quality data through our own surveys, and by supporting local people to conduct their own surveys is crucial in enabling us to identify what precisely is driving our litter problem, where the problem is worst and what effective solutions may be.

We know this because for almost 20 years Keep Scotland Beautiful has coordinated local environmental quality audits across Scotland; providing training, validating results, supporting duty bodies and providing a networking forum. The data that has been collected through our audits has been used since 2004 to give us a robust set of indicator data to allow us to build up a national picture and trend data for local environmental quality.

For example, through our data sets we know that cigarette litter and food and drinks packaging are both 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.

The transition of the way we currently collect data to a new Litter Monitoring System continues to progress, providing a new digital platform, utilising spatial analysis and improving the ability to share and relate data sets. With increased accessibility for Duty Bodies and Statutory Undertakers, there is the potential to improve collaborative working practices.

We also know that local environmental quality is more persistent 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.

Objective 4: Encourage a shared approach to services that will effectively support litter prevention.

We supported the review of the Code of Practice for Litter and Refuse (2018) and are keen to engage in further regular reviews and collaboration.

We believe that the use of flexible and innovative interventions to support litter prevention and removal can work.  Indeed, it has been shown before at a local level through introducing different types of bins and using nudge behaviour change initiatives. Our recent Roadside Litter Campaign and Cup Movement in Glasgow have trialed innovative interventions, as did our collaborative work in the Grassmarket with Hubbub. What we know is that further testing is needed, funding made available and licensing issues removed to ensure that successful pilot solutions can be rolled out on a national scale.

Our 2020 report suggested that a permanent innovation fund could play a key role in helping communities test the most appropriate solutions for the problems in their area.

Objective 5: Empower community groups to take action.

We firmly believe that the creation of a national litter hub to provide information and advice to community groups is a crucial part of tackling litter. Those we talk to value our insight and ability to connect them to others who are working to achieve a similar goal. Our growing network of Community Clean Up Hubs have all been able to access information, guidance and support from our team, and more importantly from each other.  

Although most people have opinions about litter, there is still real confusion about the facts, the legislation, the simple solutions to make it easy for people to do the right thing. We have called for a community-focused litter education programme to support individuals and communities to fully understand the scale of the challenge and the role they can play in monitoring and tackling it. 

We already deliver education activities in schools through our award-winning Eco-Schools programme, but learning shouldn’t be confined to the classroom it should be embedded in informal settings in community groups across the country so that every member of society, young or old can access and benefit from it.

We believe a community-focused programme of education and behaviour change to create a ‘Litterate’ Scotland, could make a real difference, and are delighted to be piloting this with people already.

Objective 6 & 7: Develop an effective enforcement model and improve the consistency of enforcement practices.

We believe that the current enforcement model is broken and we know that the problems and inconsistencies with the enforcement system for litter fines across Scotland need to be urgently addressed.  We recognise that this is not an easy fix. If, and when, the broken model becomes more consistent across the country, then we would welcome a fine level review, but currently we do not believe an increase in FPNs for littering will be effective due to these issues.

We have trained hundreds of officers from across the country over the past two decades, and regularly hear from them about the challenges they face. So, we believe that further guidance and training for local authorities and national parks on best practice in relation to enforcement would be useful to ensure consistency.

Now is the time for us to all come together and ensure that our views are heard. We have always said that litter needs to be tackled collectively and in collaboration with others. It won’t be changed by a strategy alone – but it can be solved if all those who respond to this consultation help to shape it, buy into it and deliver the recommendations.

We are supporting the consultation process alongside Zero Waste Scotland and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. The consultation is open until the end of March 2022 and we will be working with communities and other stakeholders to ensure as many responses as possible are submitted.

You can find more about our work on litter on our litter webpages.

We support the