Scotland is stunning, so why destroy it with litter? - Iain Gulland

Scotland’s green spaces have been so valuable to many of us throughout the pandemic.

Silver Sands of Morar in Lochaber is one of Scotland's beauty spots that has seen an infux of visitors as lockdown eases, with issues of littering and dirty camping reported. PIC: Norrie Adamson/geograph.org/CC.
Silver Sands of Morar in Lochaber is one of Scotland's beauty spots that has seen an infux of visitors as lockdown eases, with issues of littering and dirty camping reported. PIC: Norrie Adamson/geograph.org/CC.

Spending time outdoors has been beneficial for mental health and provided a safe way for many of us to see loved ones. We have reconnected with nature like never before - exploring our country and enjoying walks, daytrips and staycations.

Our beautiful green spaces and countryside, from lochs and mountains to city parks and country woodlands, are the envy of the world. As Scotland continues to take steps back to normality, parks and beauty spots across the country are expected to see a flurry of visitors in the coming months. This raises serious concerns about litter.

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The uncomfortable truth is that littering is an intrinsic problem in Scotland (as it is elsewhere), including in rural and green areas.

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It is a behavioural issue that isn’t isolated to one location or demographic and is evidence of a systematic failure to respect our shared beauty spots and to tackle our throwaway culture. With the recent easing of lockdown measures, it is anticipated that littering will increase as more people are able to travel.

Around 41,000 tonnes of litter and flytipping is collected annually by local authorities. This is estimated to equate to an astonishing 250 million individual items of litter cleared up every year – or 50 pieces of litter for each person in Scotland. Cleaning all this litter up costs the public purse at least £46million every year.

As well as being incredibly unsightly, litter can also be harmful to wildlife, damaging to communities and a danger to young children. Dropping litter is a criminal offence and perpetrators can be prosecuted. Litter is pollution, and much of it eventually ends up in the marine environment. Half of all littered items could have been recycled. It is waste in the wrong place.

Research carried out by Zero Waste Scotland indicates that most Scots (89%) see litter as a problem in their local area – with a quarter seeing it as a serious problem. Not only that, a third of the population have seen an increase in litter since the pandemic started.

This littering behaviour must stop. As Scotland moves away from single-use plastic items and increases recycling through the new Deposit Return Scheme for drinks cans and bottles, this will ultimately result in less litter, making a good case for change.

In partnership with the Scottish Government and Keep Scotland Beautiful, Zero Waste Scotland has recently launched the second phase of the Scotland is Stunning – Let’s Keep It That Way campaign. It has a simple message - if you are spending time outside in Scotland, take your litter home or bin it.

The campaign aims to raise awareness of the harm done by littering, encouraging Scots to change their habits and take accountability for properly disposing of litter. It’s important to prepare before you set off on a day out or a staycation. No litter is too cumbersome that you can’t take it away with you to dispose of at home if a bin is not available.

Each of us has a responsibility to look after the outdoor spaces that have brought so much joy over the last year.

Scotland is stunning, let’s keep it that way.

Iain Gulland is chief executive at Zero Waste Scotland

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