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The litter emergency

A blog post by Barry Fisher

The litter emergency is here.  We have been warning that it is coming for a number of years, but our data now confirms it.

People are really concerned. In fact, nearly nine out of 10 of us think that litter is a significant concern – I find it hard to think of another issue on which people so strongly agree.

What is more worrying is that the most deprived communities feel most impacted by Scotland's growing litter problem as stated in our update report 'Time for a new approach: tackling the litter emergency'.

In our report we outline some damning stats from a major survey of streets and a public perception poll.  The avalanche of evidence spanning two decades, shows a continuing picture of decline.  And, worryingly, the public mood is that the situation isn’t improving, despite our best efforts.

The causes and consequences of litter and the behaviours that lead to it are complex and are impacted politically, culturally and economically.

One thing is clear - litter is still being dropped. And the same unsustainable consumption habits and throwaway culture fuelling the twin climate and nature crises are also driving the litter emergency.

Once again cigarette litter is the most common item found, with it being recorded on 62.7% of all sites surveyed.  But this year we have again recorded the highest percentage of sites with fast food related litter in a decade – we’ve all seen single-use bottles, cans, burger and chip wrappers strewn by the roadside.  With some of this waste being eligible for the Scottish Government’s Deposit Return Scheme (DRS), currently scheduled to be implemented next August, it provides some insight into the proportion of litter that could be reduced in future.

We first reported a decline in local environmental quality in 2016 across all parts of Scotland.  Now it is damaging our communities and costing us more than a £1million a week to deal with.  A further delay to real action will only cost us more in the long run.

We know that the public and key stakeholders want to see more done to reduce litter levels, and this was mirrored in the responses to the Scottish Government consultation on a new Litter and Flytipping Strategy for Scotland.  We look forward to the new strategy being launched in early 2023, but are very clear that this, and any supporting action plan, must be properly resourced in order for it to be effective, have a positive impact and meet the expectations of communities and other stakeholders across Scotland.

Despite the depressing evidence, we remain hopeful, and urge everyone to take crucial positive action.  We all need to consider what we buy, throw away, and how we treat the places we live, work and visit.  Only by changing our own behaviours can we keep Scotland beautiful.

We know that tackling the litter problem in Scotland will help us solve the global climate and nature crises, so we urge everyone from the private and public sectors and individuals to join us to make our country litter free. Just as members from one of our community clean up hubs - Three Towns Clean Up Crew in North Ayrshire - did this year collecting 2,714 bags of litter.

Everyone needs to take ownership of this issue.  Everyone can play their part.  And we are committed to support those who want to, whether that is taking part in a litter pick as part of our annual Spring Clean from 17 March – 17 April, carrying out a citizen science survey, sharing messages that littering is unacceptable or binning litter and entering the LitterLotto prize draw.

Additionally, we are calling for stakeholders to urgently collaborate and innovate to deliver positive and impactful campaigns, projects, and interventions to reduce litter in our communities and reverse the litter emergency we have been warning of.

First published in The Scotsman on 26 January 2023

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