Keep Scotland Beautiful's litter emergency is a call to arms for all those who love this country – Stephen Jardine

Scotland need to start enforcing its litter laws with greater vigour

If you thought he was merely the man who wore daft hats, drove fast cars and wrote catchy tunes, think again. Jamiroquai is a modern-day Nostradamus. Back in 1993, he released an album predicting ‘Emergency On Planet Earth’. Since then we’ve had the climate emergency, a drugs emergency and now we have another to add to our list of woes.

Keep Scotland Beautiful has declared a litter emergency and urged us all to tackle it. The charity has just launched its annual Spring Clean Scotland campaign, revealing that 85 per cent of us want to see something done about the detritus spoiling our landscape. Last year 30,000 Scots answered the call but that leaves 5.42 million sitting on the sidelines. You only have to drive along any main road or walk most pavements to see the scale of the issue, so what are we all going to do about it?

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It starts with education. When we talked about this on BBC Radio Scotland the other day, callers bemoaned the mess around Scotland’s schools. A few years ago, thousands of children took part in climate strikes where they skipped school to protest about global warming. The climate emergency starts here at home so schools should establish Green Ambassadors to encourage participation in environmental initiatives, starting with keeping the playground clean.

Rubbish is a blight on the countryside and cities alike (Picture: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images)Rubbish is a blight on the countryside and cities alike (Picture: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images)
Rubbish is a blight on the countryside and cities alike (Picture: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images)

‘Do The Right Thing’

For the rest, breaking school rules could mean a period spent with plastic gloves and high-viz vests picking litter in the streets nearby. That would be unpopular but isn’t that the point of a punishment?

For those who’ve reached adulthood without being educated on the impact of litter, a two-pronged approach is the way ahead. If the Scottish Government can invest in a Hate Crime public information campaign, it can do the same for litter. In Australia, the “Do The Right Thing” campaign transformed attitudes and slashed the amount of waste in public places. Just as drink-driving is now socially unacceptable, so dropping litter can also be turned into a badge of shame.

That leaves those people who neither think nor care. The type of person who winds down the window and throws fast food detritus out the car when driving through the countryside.

Scotland’s incredible landscape

Where all else fails, enforcement is the only answer. Scotland has litter laws but only a handful of people are prosecuted every year. In Germany, their litter problem was tackled by using CCTV and dashcam footage to identify offenders and hit them with hefty fines. Even dropping a cigarette end now brings a 250 euro penalty. Resources are stretched but the fines could be used to help fund enforcement and more litter wardens.

We’re all proud Scots so why do we put up with the spoiling of our beautiful country? Tolerance is the root of the problem. The ‘broken window’ theory was pioneered in New York in the 1970s and showed that visible signs of neglect like littering and vandalism lead to even greater societal deterioration because people became inured to it – littering leads to littering and worse.

We have our fair share of challenges but our incredible landscape and environment is an asset and an advantage when it comes to attracting visitors and making Scotland a great place to live. If we really value that, tackling litter would be a good way to show it.



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