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Litter levels highlight scale of our selfish behaviour

22 October 2021

Litter emergency looms closer as 9 in 10 people agree it is a problem.

With national data revealing the high levels of litter we hosted Scotland’s Local Environmental Quality Seminar 2021/22 on 21 October. The event provided an opportunity for a broad range of stakeholders from all sectors to come together and discuss how we can improve local environmental quality across Scotland.

We welcomed almost 50 delegates representing 30 organisations including duty bodies, local authorities and housing associations. Following on from the successful Litter Summit in March 2021, this event included an overview of local environmental quality in Scotland, a chance to hear more about the developing national litter and flytipping strategy and share best practice.

As part of our presentation we revealed data from our national surveys which further warn of a looming litter emergency.

  • 88% of people agree litter is a problem across Scotland.
  • More than two PPE litter items per 1km surveyed.
  • Five out of six sites surveyed are littered.
  • 1 in 10 sites had unacceptable litter levels.
  • Smoking related litter is the most commonly observed - present at 64% of sites.
  • More than half of surveyed sites were littered with food and drink items.

Cigarettes, food-on-the-go litter and drinks related litter top the tables once again, but the pandemic has highlighted a new litter type – masks which have never featured in previous years.  The scale of the challenge Scotland faces as we collectively act to tackle the behaviours that are leading to a looming litter emergency is not to be underestimated. 

Despite last year being an exceptional one, where data cannot really be compared with our historic trends, and when cleansing services were under extreme pressure, the stats taken from almost 11,000 surveyed sites speak for themselves. 

It is clear that litter levels and the littering behaviours highlighted in our report – Time for a new approach to tackling litter last year, need urgent attention.

Màiri McAllan, Minister for Environment, Biodiversity and Land Reform gave the key note address at the seminar and we heard from the Scottish Government about a new national litter and flytipping strategy.

Three presentations showcasing good practice followed. Glasgow City Council shared their Covid Recovery and Operational Improvement Plan. Queens Cross Housing Association provided detail on their work in building and sustaining popular neighbourhoods and improving local environments. Lastly, our Education and Learning team presented their work with schools in tackling the issue of litter and waste.

The event has kickstarted a programme of online events focusing on the key strands of the proposed new National Litter and Flytipping Strategy which will go out for consultation this winter.

Barry Fisher, our CEO said, “There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought new challenges for those who work hard to keep our country litter free.  And, it is clear, that for many, the impact that litter, dog fouling and graffiti, has on their communities and neighbourhoods is unacceptable, particularly in our most deprived communities.

“Our latest survey results again highlight that where there are people in large numbers, there are unacceptable levels of litter.  While no one organisation can solve this issue, individually we can all take responsibility and bin our litter or take it home and treat our country with respect.

“Alongside The Scottish Government and Zero Waste Scotland we are committed to continuing efforts to support communities, local authorities, businesses, and national agencies to reverse the decline in environmental quality across Scotland.

“We must now build on the collaborative work we have started over the past 18months, to eradicate the selfish behaviours that impact our neighbourhoods and the places we visit.

“We’re calling for everyone in Scotland to join us on our collective mission to make all of Scotland beautiful again”

Despite the continuing increase in litter levels there is a clear, collective ambition to tackle litter and we are working with others to ensure that the positive action, carried out by volunteers who pledged 1.5million minutes to litter pick during our Summer Clean this June, and positive momentum of the national ‘Scotland is Stunning’ litter campaign really makes a difference.  

Everyone needs to step up to the challenge.  Litter should be one of the easiest environmental problems to solve – everyone is able to bin their litter or take it home.

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