Litter comes in many forms. Take a look the next time you walk outside - you can't miss it. Cigarette butts, fast food packaging, crisp bags, cans and cartons, newspapers, ATM slips, chewing gum. You name it, and it's on our streets and motorways, in our parks and our lochs, up our mountains and on our beaches. With 73% of people saying that the litter problem has stayed the same or become worse since 2013, it is an obvious issue which requires us all to work together to tackle it.
Litter can affect our health and local environment - that’s why people risk an £80 penalty for littering or £200 for flytipping.
The Scottish Government launched The National Litter Strategy: towards a litter-free Scotland in June 2014 to set out the approaches to tackling littering and flytipping issues nationwide. It provides guidance for tackling litter, and at the heart of the strategy is prevention: encouraging individuals to take responsibility to ensure litter does not enter the environment in the first place.
There is no silver bullet to prevent littering behaviour as a complex mix of factors influence it. These factors can include individual bad habits, social norms that littering is something to be tolerated or material factors such as a lack of bins preventing correct disposal.
Fast food litter includes bags, containers, sweetie wrappers, crisp packets and disposable barbeques, as well as food waste. It has a major effect on the quality of life of local residents, can be dangerous for wildlife and pets and can attract rodents. It is often the most visible type.
Single use drinks containers fall into the fast food litter catergory and includes plastic bottles, coffee cups, cartons and associtated other items like lids and straws. The extent of the problem is becoming increasingly understood and is one we are committed to working on specifically.
Smoking related litter is the most common type of litter on the streets of Scotland. Surveys show that just under half of our streets have some form of smoking related litter including cigarette butts, matches and packaging. In our towns and cities this figure rises to 70%.
Chewing gum does not degrade, ever. As well as downgrading the appearance of an area, chewing gum is the most difficult type of litter to deal with. Its stickiness means expensive techniques such as jet washing and steam-cleaning have to be used to remove it.
Balloons and flying lanterns can cause serious and lasting environmental consequences and a few minutes of fun can lead to months of harm to animals and the environment.
Litter is found across all parts of Scotland, but two of the most common locations for seeing litter are at the roadside and by the coast.
Roadside litter creates a negative impression of Scotland, not just with local communities, but with visitors too. It is also very expensive and dangerous to clean up, as well as harmful to wildlife. For these reasons and more, littering from vehicles is illegal. It is also why, with funding from members of the British Soft Drinks Association, we are running a bespoke roadside litter campaign to raise awareness of the issues and change littering behaviour.
Coastal and marine litter
Coastal and marine litter includes items found on a beach or at the coast, whether washed up or left behind, as a result of human activity.
Coastal litter is usually grouped into eight main material types, but the most commonly found items are made of plastic. The other groups are glass, metal, cloth, paper, polystyrene, rubber and wood.
A separate category, sewage related debris (SRD), defines a range of items made from different material types which enter the marine environment from our sewer network.
There are four main sources of coastal and marine litter:
- People (80% of coastal and marine litter comes from land - either dropped in cities, towns, rural areas or at the beach - being blown or entering our water ways via drainage systems, ultimately ending up in the marine environment.)
- The fishing industry
- The shipping industry
- The sewage network
Coastal litter has an impact on the social, environmental and economic life in our coastal towns and villages, as well as on wildlife. In addition to anti-litter activity on our beaches, we run the Scottish Beach Awards, which recognise beautiful and well-managed beaches.
How can you help tackle litter?
We believe that individuals and community groups have a large part to play in preventing litter. Cleaning up demonstrates that littering is not tolerated in your community, and encourages people to maintain the cleanliness of the area too.
If everyone in Scotland picked up one piece of litter today, our environment would be 5.2 million items cleaner. Find out how you can help keep Scotland beautiful and organise a Clean Up in your local community, pledge your support, order a #2MinuteCleanUp bag, or join a Clean Up event near you.
You could also:
- Dispose of your litter and dog dirt responsibly – in the nearest bin or by taking it home.
- Check out Zero Waste Scotland's Litter Knowledge Network and discover some of the support available to you if you wish to develop your own campaign.
- If you come across an accumulation of litter, make a formal complaint to your local authority.
- Organise a beach Clean Up or take a step beyond the litter pick and consult the Litter Pick Plus guide.
- Sign up to the Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean to record the litter types and volumes and to get involved in the fight against marine litter.