Scotland's litter problem is "as bad as ever", claims study

Written by: Geraldine Faulkner | Published:

A new litter study has revealed a 1% increase in litter since the Scottish Government launched its new approach "Towards a Litter Free Scotland" in 2014. Supermarket carrier bag litter is reportedly up 38% over the same period, despite the introduction of the carrier bag charge two years ago in Scotland. The study, commissioned by the environmental organisation INCPEN and conducted by Keep Scotland Beautiful, was carried out across 120 sites in Edinburgh, Falkirk, Renfrewshire and Inverness.

Smaller items of litter were said to be most common, with cigarette butts and gum making up the bulk of the total litter count. According to Incpen and Zero Waste Scotland, these smaller items accumulate over time and are among the most expensive to clean up. Taking the results without gum and butts, the top five kinds of larger pieces of litter were paper (9%), sweet wrappers (6%), soft drink cans (6%), plastic soft drink bottles (6%) and cigarette packets (4%).

Carrier bags are said to represent under half a percent of the total litter count. The carrier bag charge was introduced in Scotland in October 2014 in a bid to tackle litter. However, the study suggested that charges do not change the behaviour of people who litter. It found that supermarket carrier bags have gone up, but other items that do not carry a charge have gone down - the number of drinks containers is reported to have decreased by 18% while coffee cups went down by 36%.

Jane Bickerstaffe, CEO of INCPEN, said “Two years on from the introduction of the carrier bag charge in Scotland and numerous campaigns to tackle litter, the problem is as bad as ever. This charge is not reducing the amount people litter. The study suggests that more charges and deposits on items such as disposable coffee cups and drinks bottles, will not make a difference. Unlike the bag charge which is avoidable if you take your own bag, imposing new charges would simply place additional financial strain on hard working families.”

According to Incpen's CEO, experience of litter prevention suggests that the issue is best tackled through more innovative approaches to engaging communities and changing behaviour. For example, Hubbub’s Neat Streets campaign, which is supported by INCPEN and launched in Edinburgh in July 2016, had significant impact in an earlier scheme in London.

Bickerstaffe added: “We have to look at fresh approaches to cleaning up our towns and countryside. There are many good local campaigns and initiatives but what’s needed is a long term national programme that makes it socially unacceptable to litter anything. INCPEN recommends that governments look at how we change the behaviour of litterers, so they are proud of their environment and put all rubbish in a bin or take it home.”

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