Unmasking a looming litter emergency

We are calling for an urgent commitment to make Scotland ‘litter-ate’

We've published a new report on Scotland’s local environmental quality highlighting an avalanche of evidence from its audits from the past two decades which points to a looming litter emergency – hidden in plain sight.

We are calling for eight urgent actions to make Scotland ‘litter-ate’ and are urging key stakeholders and communities to join efforts to change the way we behave to tackle unacceptable levels of litter, dog fouling, graffiti, weeds and detritus.

The report ‘Time for a new approach to tackling litter’ highlights an accelerating decline in standards from 2013 to 2020 - with only 16% of audited sites being recorded as litter free last year compared to 31% in 2013, and dog fouling now found on 3% more streets that in 2013.  In addition, results also showed a more marked decline in Scotland’s poorest neighbourhoods.

Local environmental quality standards in Scotland were already in decline before the pandemic, now nine months on, as we rely on good quality neighbourhoods for our health and wellbeing, our polling has highlighted that 30% of people believe the overall condition of their local neighbourhood deteriorated during lockdown. 

Yet, despite the impact of this ‘lockdown effect’, where people have noticed an increase in the severity and prevalence of poor environmental quality, improved connections have been made with the environment and local neighbourhoods.   And, positively, we have worked with others to tackle the rise in flytipping, dog fouling and littering during a challenging year.  Building on this as we enter a new year is key to tackling the behaviours behind the looming litter emergency.

This is why we have outlined an eight-point cross sector agenda for change to tackle the complex interlinking problems leading to the decline. This includes calls for an: education and behaviour change programme to create a Scotland that is truly litter-ate; a review of the failing model of enforcement; and further collaboration to bring together a reinvigorated Scottish network working together to jointly reverse the decline.

Barry Fisher, CEO of Keep Scotland Beautiful said, “The increasingly visible new litter type – the single use face mask – has become a symbol of our disregard for Scotland and our fellow citizens.  The simple truth is that we need to all start questioning our own habits – what we consume, what we throw away, and how we look after our local neighbourhoods – and we need to address the looming litter emergency head on by changing our own behaviours and working together with key partners, to build on the successes of this year.

“We must respect and look after the places that we love if we are to have any hope of solving the global climate and nature crises. Tackling the first can help the latter. We need you to join us to make our communities, businesses and individuals truly litter-ate.”

Iain Gulland, chief executive of Zero Waste Scotland, said: “Our relentless consumption of materials is Scotland’s biggest contributor to the climate crisis. The extraction, manufacture and transport of materials is a huge source of carbon emissions and something we could affect by reducing our demand for single-use items. It is particularly upsetting that people continue to pollute our streets, parks, streams and rivers, where they continue to cause damage for months and years to come. This needs to stop and we will continue to work with Keep Scotland Beautiful and other partners to find solutions to these issues.”

We are committed to continuing efforts to support communities, local authorities, businesses, and national agencies to reverse the decline in environmental quality across Scotland – from rural to urban settings – but your support is needed. 

The time to act is now.  Scotland is beautiful, and we must all commit to do more to protect and enhance the places we care for.

Read the current and past reports here and listen to our Green Talk podcast here or find it on your favourite podcast platform.

14 December 2020

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