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Interventions

Understanding the reasons for litter behaviour is key to know how to tackle it and change the behaviour.

Personal and social factors

For personal and social factors we need to change how someone thinks about littering behaviour and increase knowledge on responsibilities.

Education and awareness can be part of this such as visiting schools and ensuring young people learn the importance and responsibilities of keeping an area clean and tidy as well as the implications of not doing so. Many local authorities visit schools and engage young people in responsible behaviour in public places while almost 1,000 schools, nurseries and after school clubs take part in Eco-schools, a free sustainable schools programme in which young people look at environmental issues and complete at least one litter pick or survey. There are specific resources that can be used to share information about the litter emergency to young people including in a school environment. 

Local and national campaigns can also be effective in reaching a greater audience and they often showcase how littering is socially unacceptable. It is important to know what audience and behaviour you want to target as this will inform what platform you use, whether that be on social media, in person or in a newsletter, and what the messaging will say e.g. stop a negative behaviour, promote positive behaviour, target a specific action, target a specific item. It is best to not guess or assume what is causing the litter, you could conduct surveys or observations to understand the issues you want to target.

Take a look at the communications materials you could use.

Messaging and materials from Zero Waste Scotland for different locations.

Scotland is Stunning campaign materials, including for different platforms and land manager.

Smoking related materials from Zero Waste Scotland.

Messaging and materials from Keep Scotland Beautiful for different litter types and locations. 

Bins

The most obvious material factor in the context of litter is bin provision. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as more bins cause less littering. Some studies show bins reduce littering while other examples show bins in place but littering still occurring. Others have shown the removal of bins has reduced littering. Therefore, bin provision is something to be considered on a case-by-case basis based on factors affecting whether someone is littering and the general perception of the area.

It's not only whether a bin is present or not that makes a difference; people are more likely to put their waste in the bin if they can see it, it is clean, it is in working order and has space. Ultimately, bins need to be well serviced otherwise it will put people off. A full bin will also likely lead to littering as people put items on or around a bin.

Lastly, there are lots of different types of bins and the choice of which to use should depend on the volume of waste, the types of items commonly needing disposal and the environment. Gulls and other animals, as well as windy conditions (such as at the coast), will mean an open bin won’t work as waste will escape. However, lids and handles (particularly if unclean) may not be used. There are now bins which can be more engaging or serve a specific purpose, wide mouthed bins have been used for disposing of roadside waste, ballot bins have been used to encourage people to use the bins to cast a vote. Similar to messaging, you should know the target audience for this sort of intervention.

Place

For material factors affecting whether someone litters the surrounding area can play a big role. The broken window theory tells as that an area already littered will encourage further litter. This means keeping our neighbourhoods clean will reduce littering. Looking after your local environment could include tasks such as litter picking, gardening, painting and there are plenty of groups doing just that.

  • Keep Scotland Beautiful has two initiatives supporting and recognising over 200 community groups across Scotland cleaning and beautifying their neighbourhoods: Its Your Neighbourhood and Beautiful Scotland.
  • Britain in Bloom encourages community groups to make positive changes to their local environment through horticultural, environmental and community action. The Scottish entrants to this competition are provided by the Keep Scotland Beautiful initiative.
  • Some local authorities such as Angus Council and North Ayrshire have options to adopt a street whereby you can focus efforts in a specific area.
  • Green Flag Award recognises parks and green spaces where excellent management is demonstrated, and environmental standards met.
  • Scotland’s Beach Awards are given to beaches where excellent management and environmental best practice is demonstrated.
  • Some schools and organisations work to keep their local environment clean.
  • Individuals and community groups clean up their local area by litter picking (much more information on doing this is in the litter pick section, particularly local groups and support).

Enforcement

Another method to change behaviour is to use enforcement. A Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) can be issued to people who litter and this should deter offenders, as well as the general public, from littering, otherwise they could be fined. Unfortunately, there are some problems and inconsistencies with the enforcement system for litter fines across Scotland which are making this less effective right now. However, the Scottish Government are leading on an action under the National Litter and Flytipping Strategy to address this – including development of more effective enforcement practices and conducting an evidence review of the enforcement of litter and flytipping offences to better understand, and address, the key barriers to current enforcement practices.

Reducing waste

One way to reduce the quantity of litter is to reduce the materials that someone could drop or leave behind. The most common items littered on our streets are smoking related which is followed by food and drink packaging. Legislation is already being progressed such as the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS), Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for packaging, and The Circular Economy Bill which aim to reduce litter. We are working towards a more circular economy – one where we keep materials flowing though the economy rather than wasting resource and using new natural resources.

We can reduce our own consumption and use of packaging by re-using items such as carrier bags and coffee cups, including remembering to use those we already have. There are often discounts for bringing your own reusable too. Hubbub have stated that although 69% of people own a reusable coffee cup only 1 in 6 say they remember to use it every time they buy a hot drink. There is advice on how we as individuals can reduce waste, consume responsibly, and live more sustainably in the Resources section.

Marine environment

The Marine Litter Strategy looks at reducing all types of marine litter with strategic direction 2 being “Reduce marine and coastal based sources of litter, with a focus on the most problematic sources, in co-ordination with land sourced litter being reduced by the National Litter and Flytipping Strategy”.

Actions include supporting the development or trials of new tools or technologies that could help in the retrieval of lost fishing gear and investigating legislation to ban the manufacture and sale of wet wipes containing plastic.

Work together

Ultimately, it will have to be a combination of measures that tackle litter and littering behaviours. We need to change attitudes towards littering, ensure our places discourage it and use legislation and enforcement where necessary.

Taking the example of wearing a seatbelt in the car, legislation caused many drivers and passengers to immediately wear their seatbelt; in 1991 it became compulsory for rear-seat occupants to wear one too and there was an immediate increase from 10% to 40%. In this time, it quickly became socially frowned upon to not wear a seatbelt, enforcement was in place to fine drivers and the national campaign highlighted the importance and safety. Today over 90% of people wear their seatbelts making it the norm.

Further reading

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