A new approach to litter and flytipping

Iain Gulland, chief executive of Zero Waste Scotland, reflects upon the importance of the Litter Prevention Action Plan and how council action can make a difference for the environment, community and economy

More than a million pounds of public money is spent dealing with litter and flytipping in Scotland every week. It represents the cost of clearing the 250 million easily visible items of litter dropped each year – and is money that could instead be made available for local authorities to spend on other priority areas.

For the whole of the UK the public spend is even higher – not to mention the huge cost of clearing flytipping from private land. The cost to individual land owners and caretakers shows how crippling this can be; the Woodland Trust charity recently reported it spent £35,181 clearing flytipping from UK woodland in 2016 alone.

Litter and flytipping continues to be an issue that Scots regard as a problem in their area², and the negative impacts are significant. Not only is it unsightly, but it also takes time to remove responsibly, can limit access, and can cause issues around health and safety – particularly when hazardous materials such as asbestos are involved. There are also additional, indirect impacts on communities, including detrimental impacts on house prices. And with waste crime becoming an increasingly more visible issue, it’s clear a new approach is needed to turn the tables on litter and flytipping for good.

Who is responsible?
Despite its overwhelmingly negative effects on society, Zero Waste Scotland research shows that the majority of litter is generated by members of the public. It also indicates that 475 items are dropped every minute in Scotland. Figures such as this show the scale of the challenge ahead of Scotland – but also highlight the need to hone in on behaviour change in order to make real progress.

It’s why the Scottish government, with support from Zero Waste Scotland, is taking action to shift the focus on litter and flytipping in Scotland away from the endless task of clearing up other people’s mess – instead preventing it from occurring in the first place. This builds upon the focus on prevention at the core of the Scottish government’s National Litter Strategy.

We know that local authorities and landowners work hard to meet their statutory duty to keep areas free of litter and flytipping, with support from dedicated partners and agencies. We also know it’s a source of great frustration that despite their best efforts, and those of dedicated volunteers who devote their own time to clearing litter, the problem persists. In order to stem the tide of littered and flytipped material for good, we need to make it socially unacceptable. That means emphasising individual responsibility and maximising engagement.

What are we doing to combat litter and flytipping?
That’s why Zero Waste Scotland has launched a nationwide initiative calling on businesses, local authorities and other organisations to help cut the cost of litter clean-up and join forces to prevent litter and flytipping from happening in their communities in the first place. It’s a chance for local organisations, and particularly public bodies like local authorities, to take the lead in their communities and take a visible stand. By doing so they’ll be generating actions informed locally, that really work where they are as a result.

Taking part and creating a Litter Prevention Action Plan also represents an important opportunity to build on important stakeholder and community relationships that will help keep local momentum on litter prevention driving forward.

For decision-makers there’s also a chance to use positive action on litter and flytipping to encourage recycling improvement. Zero Waste Scotland data shows around half of all litter could have been easily recycled – so there’s a clear opportunity to help boost recycling rates and quality upon collection.

Actions included in a Litter Prevention Action Plan could be as simple as putting posters up in windows to discourage service users from littering, storing waste correctly, and including litter prevention messages in staff inductions. Yet developing a series of Litter Prevention Action Plans in an area means real, cross-community pledges that address litter before it’s an issue – and contribute to a network of national, coordinated action plans across Scotland.

What support is available?
The initiative will see participants receive support from Zero Waste Scotland to identify the litter prevention actions that make up their action plans. We know that access to tried and tested, quality communications materials are also key to success – and that’s why we have made dedicated toolkits and customisable materials available online via Zero Waste Scotland’s Litter Knowledge Network.

When the network launched earlier this year, it marked the first time such practical, targeted materials were available for free to support coordinated action against litter. The materials within the network include in-depth research on scale, impact and attitudes towards litter and flytipping, case studies of successful campaigns, and specialist advice covering specific litter challenges – like dealing with chewing gum, tackling takeaway litter, and how to prevent coffee cup litter.

We know that these materials are helping organisations to tackle Scotland’s litter blight. In just five months, the Litter Knowledge Network resources have received well over 18,000 views online from more than 15,000 users, and continue to generate engagement.

What’s next?
Zero Waste Scotland, together with partners the Chartered Institute of Waste Management (CIWM) and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), recently hosted more than 400 delegates at the Scottish Resources Conference. The annual conference has become Scotland’s premier circular economy event, and we were delighted to be able to utilise that platform to announce Dundee as the first town or city in Scotland in which a group of businesses and organisations have committed to working together on Litter Prevention Action Plans.

The announcement from Dundee builds upon the city’s long-standing Take Pride in Your City campaign, in which tackling litter is a core focus. Meanwhile, in addition to Dundee, a further nine local authorities in Scotland are currently receiving support from Zero Waste Scotland to initiate stakeholder partnerships and develop prevention actions to arm them effectively against litter and flytipping. The level of engagement shows there is a strong appetite for litter prevention that really works.

Litter and flytipping have long been considered a blight on Scotland’s beautiful landscape, with its prevalence a major concern for residents and a long-term, expensive issue for local authorities – and subsequently the Scottish government. What has become clear through extensive research, and Scotland’s continuing progress towards a more circular economy, is that by dealing with litter and flytipping effectively there are significant benefits for Scotland’s economy – as well as for society and the environment.

The Scottish government is revising statutory guidance on litter, attaching greater priority to litter prevention. This high-level action builds on Scotland’s existing commitment to circular economy principles, which are embedded at the of key policy documents such as the Scottish government’s circular economy strategy, Making Things Last, and Manufacturing Action Plan.

What’s clear however is that in addition to high-level support, collaborative, cross-sector working is key to cracking litter and flytipping long-term. It’s why we’re working closely with councils, trade organisations and community groups – as well as the Scottish government and its agencies – to develop a comprehensive network of actions that will generate and sustain real change.

Iain Gulland

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