Responsibilities Responsibilities

It is everyone’s responsibility to keep our country, land and water clean and clear of litter.

The duty to keep certain land clean and clear of litter and refuse

There is legislation which places responsibilities on certain bodies to keep certain land clean and clear of litter and refuse. Guidance on this is set out in the Code of Practice on Litter and Refuse (Scotland) 2018 (COPLAR).

Duty 1 means duty bodies are required to keep their land clear of litter and refuse as far as is practicable.

Bodies subject to this duty are:

  • Local authorities
  • Scottish ministers
  • Certain Crown Authorities that occupy or manage Crown Land
  • Crown Estate Commissioners
  • Crown Estate Scotland
  • Educational institutions including: universities, publicly-funded colleges and schools
  • Any operator of a relevant railway asset (such as a railway station and track)
  • Passenger transport executives
  • Light railway/ tramway operators
  • Road transport operators, other than taxi or other hire cars
  • Canal operators
  • Port/ dock/ harbour/ pier operators
  • Airport operators
  • Occupiers of relevant land within a Litter Control Area

The land in which the duty applies must be:

  • Publically accessible
  • Open to the air on at least one side
  • Under control of a duty body


  • Railway tracks
  • Educational land

Who are these bodies?

Unfortunately, it is challenging to identify all bodies that fit into this banner and are subject to this duty. Some are obvious, but some are harder to identify particularly with changes in land ownership and management. Furthermore, litter clearance is sometimes undertaken by contracted organisations, and the responsibility of meeting the duty remains with a different body. Some more common examples of land and duty bodies in which this applies are:

Each local authority has a duty on adopted A, B, C and local roads, most parks and cemeteries and beaches and other waterways. It is worth noting that not all accessible roads are adopted (such as some new developments). Also, land below the high tide line is not included.

Transport Scotland has a duty on motorways and special roads (full list can be found on the Transport Scotland website). Operating Companies and other contractors known as DBFO contractors (Design, Build, Finance and Operate) are contracted to maintain sections of the network including litter collection. Currently, AMEY cover areas in the South West and North East. In the North West, BEAR Scotland teams are responsible for litter-picking at the A87 Skye Bridge from its junction with Main Street, Kyle of Lochalsh, to the roundabout at Kyleakin. In the South East, BEAR Scotland teams are responsible for litter-picking only on motorways and dual carriageways, designated as special roads, such as the A720, Edinburgh city by-pass and A1 between Old Craighall to Thistly Cross Roundabout. Their website details the exact responsibilities.

On all other dual and single carriageway roads litter collection is the responsibility of the relevant local authority (including the areas where other companies are responsible for maintenance).

Network Rail has a duty on the railway track land but for all stations you should report to ScotRail, except Edinburgh Waverly and Glasgow Central which is Network Rail.

Scottish Canals have a duty on canal embarkments certain towpaths and walkways.

Airport and port operators will have a duty at their sites including car parks.

More information can be found in guidance from Zero Waste Scotland.

How do they meet the duty?

To fulfil the duty, each body should clear litter and refuse within a set timescale. This timescale is dependent on the amount of litter and refuse in the area (aligned to grades determined by quantity of litter), the characteristic of the area (aligned to zones determined by footfall/ vehicle intensity and the number of potential litter sources) and the proportion the body has spent on preventing litter.

There are special consideration response times to account for health and safety requirements and the need for specialist equipment too. For example, roads may require traffic management or access to an area is difficult. Further to this, other factors such as severe weather events and other legislation may also impact the ability to meet such timescales.

What about other land?

So, what doesn’t count? Private car parks, land for development, private gardens, and business parks are not covered by COPLAR; but there may still be littering issues here.

For private land or organisations, the first step would be to contact them directly. If this does not resolve the issue you can get in touch with your local authority who could use available legislation to manage the problem.


Q: I keep seeing the same person littering, what can I do?

Unfortunately, only authorised persons can issue a Fixed Penalty Notice for littering and they must see the offence, with only a few exceptions. If you see a person littering regularly you could get in touch with your local authority, particularly if you have evidence, to see if they can help monitor the issue.

Q: A local business is causing litter in the local area?

You can contact them directly to take action and clear their land. If no action is taken you could contact your local authority who may issue a street litter control notice.

Q: I am not happy with the cleanliness of my neighbourhood, what can I do?

You can request clean ups from your local authority but if it is a regular problem opening a dialogue with the council to look at the cause can help. As a last resort you can make a formal complaint and request a Litter Abatement Order from the sheriff’s court.

You can take action in the fight against litter too. Read more in the Prevent, Litter pick, Collect data, and Engage in policy pages.

Q: How do I report abandoned land causing a litter issue?

You can contact the owners directly to take action and clear their land. If no action is taken you could contact your local authority who may issue a street litter control notice.

Further reading

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