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To keep Scotland beautiful we all need to take action

A blog post by Barry Fisher

There is a litter emergency in Scotland.

When I first joined Keep Scotland Beautiful in March 2020, we warned of a looming litter emergency. For years prior to this my colleagues had worked collaboratively to tackle litter, to provide training and support to address littering behaviours, and to inspire action in our communities.

But, despite our efforts, the data we gather from our national audits makes it very clear we have an increasing problem. Our surveys revealed 67% of people believe litter to be a problem in their local area, while 87% think it is a problem across Scotland; the litter emergency is here.

In recent years we have been lacking a strategic, co-ordinated action plan across all sectors to tackle litter. This, combined with an ongoing decline in public resources available nationally and locally, large scale changes around consumption, convenience and single use, and then throw in a health pandemic, and it is clear we have a litter problem impacting different communities in different ways.

Following the publication of our report ‘Time for a new approach to tackling litter’ in 2020 we hosted a Litter Summit and stakeholder engagement event ahead of a public consultation led by the Scottish Government. We heard what people had to say and this led to a renewed energy as we supported the public consultation on a Litter and Flytipping Strategy for Scotland, alongside SEPA. In 2022 we published an update report and confirmed the litter emergency was here. We have welcomed wider policy developments including the Marine Litter Strategy, proposals for EPR, DRS, the Circular Economy Bill and regulations on single-use plastic items, but our data and public opinion still point to a huge problem in Scotland with behaviours that lead to litter.

Now, a few years on and the much-anticipated National Litter and Flytipping Strategy, and its associated Action Plan, has been published. We welcome this and believe it will serve as a framework for Scotland to begin its journey to become a litter free nation.

We are well aware of the complexities of litter and the behaviours behind it, and have been for some time. We also know that no one approach or organisation can fix it. We are very grateful to work with so many likeminded, committed and passionate people across the country – from individuals and community groups to local authorities, businesses and private and public sector organisations. But, the fact of the matter is we all need to do more. 

As a key delivery partner of the Strategy Action Plan, we are committed to working with our partners, funders and communities across the country. In year one we will lead on engaging and empowering communities through the creation of an online litter hub and a new litter education programme. We will develop and test innovative interventions to tackle littering behaviours and we will continue to collect and analyse litter data to support improvements in line with the Data Strategy.

But, let’s be honest, there is the stark reality that a Strategy alone won’t fix things, certainly not quickly. We are disappointed not to see a national campaign as part of the Action Plan this year, and we are sad not to see a focus on education in schools. But we are realistic in the financial times we find ourselves in. Government can’t pay for everything, blame doesn’t help.

What the Strategy will do is provide direction, accountability and move us forward. If we want to achieve the vision and objectives of the Strategy, we need to be more innovative, take more risks and be willing to share good practice rapidly across organisational boundaries. We are prepared to do that and will put our hearts and souls into doing so.

There is no one size fits all when it comes to tackling the litter emergency. It is not as simple as everyone following the same plan and reversing years of damage. The litter emergency did not arrive overnight, and the issue will not be resolved overnight.

But we hope this Strategy will become an integral resource for the whole country and will go a long way towards overhauling the damage which has already been done. Litter threatens Scotland’s wildlife, habitats and ecosystems on land and at sea. It’s unpleasant to look at and spoils our beautiful country and its economy.

We know how much you care about our environment and hopefully you know how much we care. We all need to pull in the same direction - towards our shared goal of a litter free Scotland. The litter strategy will be an invaluable tool for us all to use, but we must not lose sight of our original ambition, nor should we stop striving for more collaboration, commitment, finance and action.

It’s simple – to Keep Scotland Beautiful – we all need to take action.

We support the