Scotland has a litter problem, and it’s getting worse. 90 per cent of Scotland’s roadsides are tarnished by accumulated litter discarded by road users and others. A simple and clear fact that sums up the everyday experience of millions of people who live, work and travel through our great country. It’s a view that is shared by visitors, with real and tangible consequences for our economy and international reputation.
The time for casual acceptance of this appalling situation is over and will form the focus of Keep Scotland Beautiful’s week of action on roadside litter this week.
From 12-20 May we will highlight the scale of the problem, the fact that it is continuing to get worse and that every mile of road is blighted by our casual approach to waste – particularly food and drink packaging and containers. Our national roadside litter campaign ‘Give Your Litter A Lift’ has some high-profile supporters, including food, drink and packaging manufacturers, councils and road operating companies. Our joint objective is clear – to make a meaningful impact.
We can’t always blame others – the litterers, the producers, industry – and we all have a part to play in achieving the solution. We all need to establish a new norm that casual discarding of litter is unacceptable. In recent years, as the level of litter has increased across Scotland, there have been some encouraging early signs that levels of dog fouling are improving – no doubt because society is now much clearer in establishing its common revulsion at those who don’t pick up after their dog. We now need to do the same for litter, including litter discarded from vehicles.
It takes a particular type of callous irresponsibility to keep your own vehicle clean by throwing litter out the window and blighting the roadside for everyone else. Yet that is the behaviour seen every hour of every day on Scotland’s roads, and the results are clearer than ever as litter piles up on our verges.
Councils and road operating companies continually struggle to keep pace with the growing daily requirement to clear up it up. And, providing bins and signage, and investing in education and behaviour change campaigns can only go so far. Now, we need to look at enforcement. We need to remove the barriers which enforcement agencies face in issuing fines to those chucking litter out of vehicles.
South of the Border, the Westminster government has introduced a change to the legislation on littering to allow authorities to fine drivers even if it is a passenger who throws litter from their vehicle. This change supports enforcement agencies that have, for years, been dealing with the difficult task of proving who threw the litter from a vehicle. Our week of action will call on the Scottish Government to provide the same powers for enforcement officers in Scotland for litter offences.
And in support of this much needed change, we have established that an astonishing 88 per cent of the people in Scotland agree that the owner of a vehicle should face a fine of at least £80 when litter is seen being thrown from their vehicle, by them or someone else.
That’s a reflection of their belief that the problem needs tackled head on and that further decline in environmental standards simply cannot be accepted. Additionally, 65 per cent of people have said they would be prepared to report vehicle registration details to the authorities, so we know there is an appetite for change and that investment in enforcement would be welcomed.
If we, as a nation, can combine the introduction of practical new measures to better enforce our litter laws, with a new national set of standards which we expect to live by, and others to adhere to, we may at last be able to turn the tide on declining environmental standards across the country, not just on our roadsides.
That change is long overdue, and as our Week of Action this week will highlight, now more than ever we need industry, government, local authorities, roads management companies and the general public to come together and call time on the litter shame on Scotland’s roads.
Derek Robertson is Chief Executive of environmental charity Keep Scotland Beautiful