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Local Environmental Audit and Management System (LEAMS)

Clean streets, towns, cities, parks and open spaces are important to all of us. They make the places where we live, work and travel more pleasant and ultimately improve our quality of life. Issues such as litter and dog fouling spoil our environment. They give the appearance of places being uncared for and devalue neighbourhoods as locations in which to live and work. Not only this, each year these issues cost Scotland more than £60 million to deal with.

To monitor issues such as litter, dog fouling, flytipping, flyposting and graffiti, and in partnership with Scotland’s local authorities, we carry out annual local environmental quality surveys at a random selection of sites across Scotland every year. This information enables local authorities to be efficient with their local cleaning activity and informs their policies and campaigns to tackle these issues. It also supports the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Code of Practice on Litter and Refuse (Scotland) 2018 which require local authorities and others to keep specified land and public roads clean and litter-free.

The approach we use is called the Local Environmental Audit and Management System (or LEAMS) and the audits collect information on litter levels, types and source. Alongside this, other indicators such as servicing of public use bins, weeds, detritus, graffiti, flytipping and vandalism, are also recorded to provide an overall picture of every site. Audits are carried out by each local authority as well as by us (to provide independence and validation).

The 2022/23 LEAMS audit

During the 2022/2023 financial year, 90 audits took place. In total, 12,525 individual sites were assessed for litter and local environmental quality. The audits were spread out evenly over three reporting periods in the year. This is the first year since the Covid-19 pandemic where the auditing schedule has not been disrupted therefore, any comparative analysis of trends over this period should be considered within this context.

This year’s LEAMS audit highlights the following trends:

  • For the first time since 2018, the proportion of locations with unacceptable amounts of litter has decreased since the previous year.
  • However, taking into consideration that the pandemic disrupted service delivery over the previous two years, the current year would reflect the highest proportion of sites with significant litter pre-pandemic.
  • The evidence continues to show that urban high footfall areas present significant challenges for duty bodies in maintaining good local environmental quality standards.
  • Further, that across Scotland, the trend continues to indicate a strong correlation between the quality of the local environment and deprivation rating as defined under the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation. Higher levels of deprivation reflected poorer standards and therefore requiring investment in resources to tackle these challenges and support communities to improve conditions within their areas.
  • Similar to high intensity streetscapes, high volumes of vehicular activity create the most challenging roadside areas to maintain within urban authority areas.
  • Litter is a common issue across Scotland, only one in four sites were found to be free of litter at time of audit, decreasing to one in five sites in urban authority areas.
  • Cigarette litter continues to be the most common type observed, both in frequency of sites affected and proportion of individual items counted.
  • Vaping materials were counted partway through the auditing cycle, with the initial indicators showing this to be a frequently observed item, with the vast majority single use.
  • Food and drink packaging litter is common, making up almost a quarter of litter observed (close to half when discounting cigarette litter).
  • Dog fouling continues to be a nuisance problem, particularly in high footfall urban areas, one in eight sites recording a presence on average.
  • While the majority of litter is deemed to be a result of pedestrian/individual activity, escaped domestic waste is becoming more of an issue, particularly on sites that have noted a significant litter presence.
  • Local authorities, on average, are maintaining public use litter bins, with only a small proportion more than three quarters full at time of audit.
  • The majority of road channels were found to be either free or presenting only a minor presence of detritus.
  • While town centre roads/pavements were well swept, indicators reflect that improvements could be made in residential street areas where upwards of one in eight sites had a significant presence at time of audit.
  • Similar, and linked to detritus, significant detrimental weed growth was more common in residential areas.
  • One in five high priority urban zone 1 areas affected by graffiti, with the majority tagging issues.
  • Flytipping and gum staining were also more prominent in urban zone 1 areas but the majority were classed as minor presence with low visibility in the area.

Over the years the results continue to indicate a slow deterioration of local environmental quality (discounting the skewed indicators from the previous two years during the pandemic). Also, the indicators show that it is the same areas which are under most pressure for duty bodies in maintaining good local environmental quality.

The publication of the National Litter and Flytipping Strategy (NLFS) in June 2023 places priority on good quality data to help drive national and local strategies to help alleviate these pressures.

The development of a National Data Strategy in year one of the NLFS will strive to set out actions to help improve the quality, quantity and connection of data sets in order to understand the driving factors behind poor local environmental quality and evidence what and where interventions are most effective.

3 in 4

sites recorded a presence of litter

11.5
litter items

recorded on average per 100m2 of area audited

Half

of all litter items are related to smoking

1 in 4

litter items food and drink packaging

More than
half

of local authorities recorded an improvement in their litter KPI since last year

11%

high density residential roads with problematic levels of debris in channels

91%

of local environmental quality indicators most challenging within the areas of highest deprivation

All
22
indicators

for local environmental quality suggest urban areas of high footfall/ vehicular movement are under most pressure

1 in 8

town/city centre areas affected by graffiti

About the LEAMS approach

LEAMS uses a standard approach to record litter. Five grades are used to assess the overall presence of litter at an audited site:

Grade A No litter
Grade B+ Predominantly free of litter – up to three small items
Grade B Predominantly free of litter
Grade C Widespread distribution of litter with minor accumulations
Grade D Heavily littered with significant accumulations

 

*Sites that score either a grade C or D are considered unacceptable and require cleaning.

Street cleanliness and litter-related results

Scotland-wide street cleanliness

Since last year, the overall Scotland-wide street cleanliness score has improved by just less than a percentage point (0.9) and now sits at 90.6% of sites having acceptable levels of litter. While this is a positive change in direction, this should be viewed with caution in the context of being the first year that Covid-19 restrictions were largely removed.

Further positive indicators are observed at local level, with more than half (18) local authorities maintaining or improving on their street litter cleanliness score since last year.

While local authorities are by in large keeping the majority of sites maintained for litter removal, this does mask a number of areas that are clearly providing challenges.

Firstly, most sites record litter; any drop in resources is likely to have a significant negative impact on local environmental quality as littering is still a widespread problem. While most of the issues are from individual behaviour, there are signs that infrastructure improvements could yield positive outcomes with spillage from waste collection a not uncommon observation, particularly leading to areas with larger volumes of litter.

Smoking materials (and now including single-use vapes) are still a common litter type, half of all items counted and present on four out of five high priority zone 1 areas. While there are examples of localised interventions that have yielded positive short term reductions in littering this litter type, there is little evidence of available of long-term sustainable solutions to this issue.

With deposit return scheme and extended producer responsibility legislation due over the coming years, food and drinks packaging recovered within the circular economy should drive a reduction in this type of litter, currently half of all non-smoking related litter types counted.

There is also a strong correlation between litter and index of multiple deprivation (local environmental quality tends to improve as deprivation decreases). In the 20% most deprived areas of Scotland, around one in four sites recorded a significant presence of litter at site, improving to one in twenty-five of the 20% least deprived areas.

A correlation is also observed between population density, with high footfall urban areas recording the poorest indicators for litter, peaking at 23% of sites significantly impacted by litter in urban hub areas (zone 1) compared to 4% of low density residential rural areas (zone 3).

Across local authorities there is a wide range of scores nationally and between benchmarked clubs. When benchmarking across local authorities, we must consider the many reasons for differences in scores and the context. There are differences in levels of deprivation in each authority area, with a skew to more deprived areas found in urban areas. Further, the budgets and severity in decline of resources will be different across Scotland. The clubs are therefore used to mitigate against the wider difference and help local authorities benchmark with similar areas.

Common litter types

Cigarette litter

Despite being small, and therefore not as noticeable, cigarette litter is by far the most common type of litter found in Scotland. It is present at 58% of sites, increasing to 82% in town/ city centre sites. Of all litter items counted, smoking related litter makes up 51%.

Cigarette litter

Food and drink litter

Food and drink litter are often large items, making them a very visible type of litter affecting our perception of areas. Cans, bottles and cartons make up 11% of litter counted and drinks related items are present at 37% of sites. Similarly, 38% of sites recorded confectionery items which make up 10% of counted items. Around one in six sites has fast food related litter, 4% of all litter types counted.

Food and drink litter

Dog fouling

The amount of dog fouling recorded has decreased since last year with 6% of sites recorded this issue, compared to 7% in 2021/22. It has a higher presence in town centre and high density residential areas (9% and 8% respectively).

Dog fouling

Paper litter

After smoking it was found at the second highest proportion of sites, 45%, similar to last year. It also makes up 13% of litter items counted.

Paper litter

Wider local environmental quality results

As well as litter-related issues, there are a number of other factors which can negatively impact the places in which we live and work, and which we record as part of the LEAMS process:

Weed growth

After a decline in the presence of weeds in 2020/21 it has increased for the second consecutive year, recorded at 61.2% of sites. However, the number of sites with significant or severe weed growth has remained the same at one in ten.

Weed growth

Detritus

Detritus was recorded at almost two thirds of sites, similar to last year. One in nine sites have a significant or severe detritus problem, a slight improvement from one in eight sites last year.

Detritus

Graffiti

Graffiti is mainly found in town/city centre and high density residential areas recorded at 13% and 11% of sites audited respectively. In town/city centre areas 3% of sites have a significant or severe presence. Across Scotland as a whole, graffiti is found at one in 20 sites.

Graffiti

Vandalism

Encouragingly, vandalism continues to be a minor and localised issue in Scotland. Slightly over 1% of sites recorded any form of vandalism, with most observations related to etching on street furniture.

Vandalism

Flyposting

As expected, illegal advertising is mainly seen in town/city centre. Across Scotland only 3% of sites have flyposting, this rose to 8% in town/city centres, a slight increase in prevalence since last year. Most flyposting was smaller than A4 size, usually stickers.

Flyposting

Staining

The number of sites affected by staining to the ground has increased, recorded at 25% of sites audited. In town/city centres this increases to half of sites. Although mostly minor, 9% of sites in these areas observed significantly visible issues.

Staining

Conclusion

The last five years of national LEAMS programme has continued to highlight the areas that are in the most need for intervention to improve the quality of the local environment and shows that, while there have been some positive local changes, the overall evidence is that the challenges from previous years are still in effect.

Taking a longer-term view, it is clear that achieving a substantial improvement in our local environmental quality in the years to come will require concerted and collaborative action on the part of all key stakeholders. We are currently working in partnership with Scottish Government, Zero Waste Scotland, SEPA, local authorities and other stakeholders on the development of a national data strategy that can inform and evidence approaches that will help move to a sustainable and prevention centred approach to managing litter.

We will continue to promote, share and support partnership working in order to deal with these wider issues and in particular reverse these local environmental quality trends that have been highlighted in our LEAMS audits and findings.

We support the