WHEN I became chief executive of the charity Keep Scotland Beautiful (KSB) just over two years ago, I found on my desk a statistic from a recent KSB survey – 54 per cent of people in Scotland admitted dropping litter.
I was shocked, but not by the statistic itself. What shocked me was that too many people treat littering as an inevitability; in fact it has become a social norm. I find this worrying and unacceptable.
Litter is actually a more serious and further-reaching problem than many people might think. There is a visual problem, of course. However, littering also has social consequences and causes negative outcomes in relation to our health, our society and our public spending.
The Carnegie UK Trust recently reported that incidences of illness, depression and medical intervention were higher in areas that were filthy and litter-strewn. Furthermore, the report found fear of crime is higher where there are high occurrences of litter and other environmental incivilities such as dog-fouling, fly-tipping and graffiti.
Some readers might not feel that either of the above points affects them much. If so, they should consider this: local authorities spend millions of pounds every year on cleaning up litter from the streets. Your streets. Your money. Not only that, tourism is worth more than £4 billion a year to Scotland, and with 92 per cent of tourists citing our natural environment as their top reason for coming here, we all need to start thinking about the effect litter and mess has on our country.
That is why we have launched Clean Up Scotland, a new, mass-engagement national campaign. We have a short-term ambition: to clear Scotland of litter and mess so that it looks its best in 2014. As we all know, next year Scotland hosts the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup – genuine global events which will attract hundreds of thousands of visitors to our country and hundreds of millions of viewers around the world on television. We want Scotland to shine.
However, we have a long-term ambition, too, which is to stimulate a change in behaviour. We believe that littering is no more socially acceptable than drink driving, and we want to see those who litter treated with disdain.
This is a campaign which Scotland needs. KSB is ideally placed to lead it, having co-ordinated for the past six years Scotland’s former annual clean-up event, the National Spring Clean. In 2012 the number of volunteers involved in community clean-ups approached an estimated 250,000, and they lifted enough litter to fill 100,000 wheelie bins or cover Hampden Park three-feet-deep in black sacks. Clean Up Scotland is a scaled up, year-round version of National Spring Clean. Already in 2013, despite the unrelenting cold weather, we have had more than 25,000 registrations of individuals willing to get involved in clean-ups, with more registering every day. Thousands are also signing our online pledge.
This is a campaign about civic pride. We want one million people to help us clean up Scotland – anyone can be part of it by signing our pledge at www.cleanupscotland.com/pledge or registering to volunteer for a local clean-up. Either way, we can send a collective message to the 54 per cent – we are not going to tolerate you messing up our country any longer.
Our campaign has already caught the imagination of a range of organisations in every sector. This includes private companies such as McDonald’s, SSE, First ScotRail, Wrigleys and BT; major institutions such as the Scottish Government, local authorities, VisitScotland, Historic Scotland, Zero Waste Scotland and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa); and voluntary organisations with a concern for the environment, including the Robertson Trust, RSPB, Young Scot and the Marine Conservation Society.
Collectively, we are creating a national coalition to tackle a national disgrace.
We have a simple choice when it comes to dealing with our litter problem. We can accept defeat and resign ourselves to believing nothing can be done. Or we can take this opportunity to mobilise and give an unstoppable momentum to the Clean Up Scotland campaign. I prefer the latter.
Let’s face it, we all have it in us to love where we live. We all have it in us to clean up Scotland and keep it that way.
• Derek Robertson is chief executive of Keep Scotland Beautiful