A new fly-tip eyesore every 15 minutes in throwaway society
IT IS a scene that, in a different era, might have inspired an Impressionist painter: verdant reeds on the banks of a peaceful lily pond amid scenic woods.
But this pool off Fannyside Road in Cumbernauld does not attract those of an artistic temperament. Instead it is a magnet for fly-tippers dumping all manner of waste, from tyres, old fridges and metal barrels to everyday household rubbish.
It is a sight seen all across Scotland. Scots are producing more and more waste: each home in the country on average contributed just under 1.2 tonnes in 2005-6, some 26 kilogrammes more than the previous year. And the total amount of waste - including household, commercial, industrial and construction - rose to 22 million tonnes, up three million tonnes on the previous year.
Despite the new popularity of the environmental cause and the drive towards recycling, the idea of a throwaway society seems as entrenched in Scottish culture as ever. It is an attitude that John Ferguson, waste and resources manager at the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, is passionately trying to change.
"There's something not right at the heart of civil society," he said. "How far are people up the ladder of environmental awareness, when they cannot even keep litter off the pavement?
"We are spoilt, irresponsible and contributing massively to the destruction of our global eco-system, which is the thing that sustains all life on Earth. It makes my blood boil - the profligacy and lack of respect."
He was outraged when he was driving by the site of the T in the Park music festival at Kinross five days after the event.
"You should have seen the site. I was so shocked. It was disgraceful," Mr Ferguson said. "I would estimate there were hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of useable goods just abandoned.
"Tents, sleeping bags, wellies, clothes, tables, chairs, brollies, mattresses, plus an enormous amount of detritus such as bottles and cans. It looked like a post-apocalyptic abandoned refugee camp."
Mr Ferguson said the need to deal with rubbish responsibly should be taught in citizenship classes in primary schools to "instil these values" into children. But many people appeared to have "switched off" from the environmental message and firm action had to be taken.
"That gets you into the realms of a much more punitive and legalistic civic society. I don't like that, but I'm not sure how else we are going to change people's behaviour," he said. "We need purges in areas and just start handing out spot fines and do it en masse in certain areas, at certain times of day. But it's always a tricky one. Politicians don't like that and I can see why. I don't like it, but how else can you do it?"
According to official figures there were at least 34,000 incidents of fly-tipping in Scotland in 2005-6, or nearly one every 15 minutes. The true problem is probably worse as only 18 out of 32 Scottish councils keep records. The clean-up costs an estimated 11 million a year.
Edinburgh and Glasgow have led the way in forcing people to stop dropping litter. In 2005, Edinburgh's litter wardens issued 652 50 fixed penalty notices, in 2006 they handed out 519, while up to 22 June this year there have been 208.
In Glasgow, some 2,138 penalty notices were issued in the four months from March this year after a new team of wardens was brought in. Aberdeen has also just brought in a new litter warden team. But litter is not just an urban problem. Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park has a dedicated litter team.
Staff and board members have given up their free time to help clear up the park, on one day collecting 70 bags of rubbish - including broken glass, traffic cones, a roll of floor underlay and a caravan door - from what should be pristine countryside at Loch Lubnaig, Loch Voil, the Bracklinn Falls and Strathyre.
A spokeswoman for the park said: "It is a national park. Everyone has a responsibility to look after it. Although we have a small litter team, as a nation we really have to take more responsibility when we go into the countryside."
The firms that maintain Scotland's motorway network, such as BEAR Scotland, spend much time clearing verges of litter thrown from vehicles, especially on slip roads and at junctions near fast-food restaurants.
Colin Pryde, operations manager at BEAR Scotland, said keeping the motorway network clear of rubbish was a constant task. "It's round the clock stuff. It's like painting the Forth Bridge - you get finished and you have to start again," he said.
New legislation on waste is expected to be introduced by the new Scottish Executive. Whether this includes a crackdown on fly-tippers and litterbugs remains to be seen.
But the environment minister, Michael Russell, made clear the strength of his feelings on the matter. "Fly-tipping is a blot on our landscape which can be a cause of accidents, a fire hazard and a cause of pollution," he said.
"The ignorant and lazy people who dump their rubbish need to be made aware of the damage they are doing to our environment."
Mr Russell added the SNP government was looking at what it could do but "responsible, civic-minded behaviour would go a long way".
Carole Wilson, development manager at Keep Scotland Beautiful, which maintains the Scottish Fly-tipping Forum with funding from the Executive, insisted people were beginning to change.
"Everyone anecdotally will tell you we are probably the worst [in Europe]," she said. "I don't think that's fair now. I think we are improving all the time. But we still have a long way to go. We still have an attitude change to make."
But North Lanarkshire Council is fighting a running battle with fly-tippers at Fannyside Road, which is recognised as a "problem area for illegal dumping of rubbish" and regularly checked.
Helen McKenna, convenor of environmental services at the council, pointed to new recycling facilities and free collections of large items, saying there was "absolutely no need for anyone to fly tip".
And she warned that the council's environmental wardens investigated cases of fly tipping so that those responsible could be identified and prosecuted.
In Gartgill Road, Coatbridge, one of the latest fly-tipping incidents was being investigated. A purple mattress lay under a blanket of underlay and old carpets in pink and grey near a broken ceramic bath filled with hedge clippings. A baby's plastic high chair lay on the ground beside a fridge door and a marble- effect kitchen top. The whole scene was ringed by 17 tyres.
A closer inspection by Stewart Gregg, monitoring officer with the council's cleansing department, revealed clear bags filled with 25mm plastic gas fittings, a rust riddled exhaust pipe and a car battery.
On occasion Mr Gregg and his team will get lucky and find an old envelope or letter that will lead them to the culprit, but this is rare. Dumpers are catching on and remove identifiable items before arriving under cover of darkness.
"We'll have it cleared up by tomorrow," said Mr Gregg, casting an eye over the mess. "But no doubt we'll soon be back for more."
22m tonnes of rubbish a year - and rising
THE total amount of rubbish produced in Scotland has risen to 22 million tonnes - up by 15 per cent on the previous year, according to figures released yesterday.
Construction and demolition waste made up nearly half the total for 2005-6 at 10.6 million tonnes, with commerce and industry supplying a further 8.4 million, according to the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA).
There were 2.89 million tonnes of household waste, with the average home producing nearly 1.2 tonnes a year - up 2 per cent on the year before. Agriculture made up the remainder with some 320,000 tonnes.
However, SEPA's latest Waste Data Digest reveals a downward trend in the amount of waste sent to landfill.
In 2005, 7.3 million tonnes of rubbish was buried in the ground, compared to just under eight million tonnes the previous year and nearly 16 million tonnes in 1994.
While increased recycling has helped cut the amount of waste that is dumped, the report says: "The long-term fall can be partially explained by less construction and demolition waste being disposed of over this period.
"[The] decline... could reflect a reduction in the amount of construction and demolition waste generated, an increase in the waste reused or recycled or an increase in unauthorised land-filling or fly-tipping."
Some 893,000 tonnes of waste was recycled or composted in 2005-6, about a quarter of all household waste.
The total amount of rubbish buried in Scotland's soil is hard to estimate. But from 1989 to 2007, Scotland sent more than 175 million tonnes of waste to landfill sites. This would be enough to bury the whole of Clackmannanshire - Scotland's smallest council area - in a 4ft deep layer of compacted plastic bags, rotting food, grass cuttings, nappies, cardboard, paper, packaging, old settees, televisions, bicycles, junk mail and yet more plastic bags.
With storage space for a further 88 million tonnes left in landfill sites, according to official figures, the pressure to find different ways of dealing with waste is increasing.
Starting with tyres, a gradual ban on particular items being dumped in landfill sites is being introduced. Liquid waste has also been outlawed; batteries will follow soon. A ban on food and garden waste - any kind of biodegradable matter - will be the next big one.
European legislation will require decreasing amounts of biodegradable waste to be sent to landfill and, instead, large amounts will be turned into compost by a process that also produces methane which can be used to create environmentally friendly electricity.
The uninformed might expect the landfill industry to oppose such changes, but it is instead embracing them, welcoming the opportunities to recycle valuable commodities and turn waste into energy.
According to the Scottish Environmental Services Association (SESA), which represents the landfill industry, the days of throwing rubbish in a hole are numbered.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR WASTE WOES
Today The Scotsman begins a series of articles about waste: how much we produce, what happens to it and the problems caused by litter and fly-tipping.
We want to hear about your experiences. Is your life blighted by people dumping rubbish? Do you have a favourite beauty spot that is being spoiled by litter? Do you want to recycle but are struggling to do so?
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east