Our research shows that Scotland’s roadsides are the dirtiest they ever have been with local authorities alone clearing 50 tonnes of waste from our roadsides every month. This is both dangerous to workers and costly – it’s public money that we would all much rather seen spent on other services like hospitals and schools.
Not only that, over nine in ten of us think that litter on our roadsides creates a negative impression of Scotland, meaning it is a threat to our tourism.
Just last week a collaborative clean-up of the A82 in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park collected an astounding 124 bags of rubbish over two days from the side of one of Scotland’s most scenic tourist routes.
Too often, drivers and passengers are throwing their litter out of their car windows – out of sight, out of mind, something they don’t want discarded for someone else to clear up. According to our surveys, 83 per cent of motorways and A-roads are littered.
There is no doubt our on-the-go lifestyles are not helping with 54 per cent of litter on our roads coming from people eating and drinking on the move. With our roadsides quickly becoming some of the dirtiest in Europe, something had to change. So it’s no surprise that the Scottish Government has moved to take action. This proposed change in legislation is long overdue and is a very welcome development. Since 2016, we have been highlighting the scale and impact of the problem and calling for this legislative change through our Anti-Roadside Litter Campaign.
Why is the proposed change in law so significant? Although littering from vehicles is already a criminal offence, it is difficult to enforce as it requires the person who dropped the offending item from the vehicle to be caught in the act, and the person doing that isn’t necessarily the registered keeper. The proposed new legislation will hold the registered keeper of the vehicle responsible for whoever dropped the litter (passenger or driver), making it easier to enforce prosecution.
It is recognition that our politicians can do more to ensure the law works better to tackle this environmental crime and would suggest that traffic cameras and video evidence should be used to hold the registered keeper responsible for littering from their vehicle. Whilst the detail of the Scottish Government’s announcement is still to unfold, we believe the registered keeper change has the potential to be transformative.
In this age of smartphones and dashcams, it will be easier to identify the culprits. This increases the potential for everyone to act with more caution and consideration and encourages people to think twice about what they do with their rubbish.
With our research showing that more than half of adults in Scotland have seen someone throw litter from a vehicle and not pick it up, we believe the refreshed legislation will act as a deterrent and lead to a change in littering behaviour.
Our Anti-Roadside Litter Campaign has allowed us to give prominence to the issue, raise levels of awareness, trial interventions, and ultimately bring the issue to the attention of our politicians.
The message of our campaign is simple - give your litter a lift, take it home! It’s backed by local authorities, road operators and businesses. No single organisation can solve the problem, it is only collaboration across sectors that will deliver the results we all want to see.
The ultimate goal here is to change our littering behaviour. The change in the legislation will be justified if it results in more people taking their litter home, which will ultimately lead to a significant reduction in the fortune we spend on roadside litter clearance annually. After all, we should not be looking to endlessly promote and extend retrospective clean-up solutions to our roadside litter problem, or to the wider decline in our local environmental quality. Whilst more effective enforcement is necessary, we have to remember that’s only part of the solution. It must also be supplemented by other approaches including education, behaviour change interventions, and improved litter management and infrastructure.
We should be looking to change attitudes to litter, so that nothing is discarded in the first place. That’s why we will be promoting the national Week of Action from 11 to 19 May. This will give everyone who is affected by this issue the opportunity to add their voice to our preventative campaign.
It will be interesting to see what impact the change in legislation will have. There is no doubt, however, the message is now clear. Littering anywhere, especially on roadsides, is completely unacceptable in Scotland.
Derek Robertson is chief executive of the charity Keep Scotland Beautiful