Alastair Dalton: Scotland is losing its battle with litter

Litter on Scotland's roads and rail tracks continues to be a problem. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Litter on Scotland's roads and rail tracks continues to be a problem. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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William Fortnum, of Fortnum & Mason fame, launched the business by selling the candle ends he collected every morning as a footman in the Royal Household.

I often wonder whether similar riches could lie in the huge amount of litter blighting Scotland, particularly along roads and rail tracks.

A community beach clean up takes place at North Berwicks East Beach. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach

A community beach clean up takes place at North Berwicks East Beach. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach

The Scotsman revealed three years ago that enough litter to fill two Olympic-size swimming pools is collected along these transport routes every year.

The cost of cleaning up trunk roads alone was £60,000 a month, which often put the workers involved at risk from being hit by vehicles and involved lanes having to be closed.

For what’s less potentially lucrative, like sweet and food wrappers, I have also thought about how they could be prevented from being dropped in the first place.

Maybe one day, unique barcode-style tags on every piece of packaging will enable litter to be traced back to the person who dropped it.

But whether you regard that as a fanciful prospect, or Big Brother gone too far, we have a litter problem that’s not getting any better, and in Scotland, we have still to agree on a solution.

In fact, things are actually getting worse, according to Keep Scotland Beautiful. It has found that over the last three years, levels of litter – along with graffiti, weed growth and fly-posting – have shown noticeable increases.

This has coincided with a further squeeze on the budgets of local authorities, which are responsible for most of Scotland’s roads.

With many councils struggling to repair potholes, it’s little wonder they appear to be also losing the litter battle.

It seem to me that something more radical than has been tried before is needed to make an impact. The plastic bag charge has had dramatic results in the number of bags saved and the volume blowing around and stuck in trees.

Proponents of a national deposit scheme for drinks containers believe it could do the same for bottles and cans littering our streets. In the interim, there’s been a big step back with AG Barr scrapping its glass bottle deposit this year after for more than a century.

That’s come on top of my wait for the promised “reverse vending machines” to make my millions, where you insert a can and get cash, to become commonplace, to no avail.

However, as well as a financial incentive, we need to do much more to instil pride in our country and landscape so that littering becomes as much a taboo as drink driving.

In the United States, the long-running “Don’t Mess With Texas” campaign is said to have transformed attitudes towards litter.

Slogans like Keep Britain Tidy and Keep Scotland Beautiful simply don’t cut it. We need the anti-litter equivalent of Glasgow’s Miles Better. Something that resonates with people and makes them want to wholeheartedly buy into.

Penalising those dropping litter is all very well, but at whatever level that fines are set, the flaw is that you need to catch the culprits.

For instance, you still see many people holding their mobile phones behind the wheel, despite the fine for this offence being raised to £100. I can’t see the culprits’ behaviour changing when the fine is increased to £150.

Enforcement may have a role, but it isn’t the answer. You’ve got to incentivise people, or appeal to their national pride.

As the torrent of election paraphernalia is swept into the rubbish this morning, that should be something for the new Scottish Government to ponder.