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Litter: What Scots really think, revealed in new report

What people in Scotland really think about litter in their communities, and their attitude to how it should be tackled, is revealed in a new report published today (Monday 13th April 2015) by Zero Waste Scotland.

13 Apr 15

The study, Public Perceptions and Concerns around Litter, will be used by Zero Waste Scotland to develop ideas to prevent littering behaviour, rather than spending time and money cleaning it up as it appears in our communities.

The direct cost of litter and flytipping is £53 million a year, on clean-up as well as education and prevention measures 

This new research confirms that littering is a social taboo, but reveals that more people are litterers than they might admit – and many people see littering behaviour on a sliding scale of acceptability, and are prepared to justify it in certain circumstances, for example if there aren’t ‘enough’ bins or if it’s ‘accidental’.

It reveals the people who took part expect to see litter in their area being quickly cleaned up – however, when litter is left ‘on their doorstep’ or is spoiling their local area, or leisure time, people are far more likely to get upset by it.

Key findings:

  • Most people considered “deliberate” littering a lot worse than “accidental” littering. “Accidental” littering was excused by a perceived lack of, or full bins, being a small amount, or people not paying attention.
  • People didn’t see themselves as “deliberate” litterers – and are very reluctant to admit to littering.
  • There were strongly-held assumptions about why the litter had been dropped – this was as important to them as the items themselves. For example, litter seen as “deliberate” or tied to other anti-social behaviour (such as flytipping, or late-night eating and drinking) was heavily criticised.
  • They expected residential areas to be clean, and expected more litter in city centres (due to fast food and eating on-the-go outlets) and grass verges. Spoiling enjoyment of leisure areas such as parks and beaches also annoyed people.

Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said:

“There can be no excuse for littering, which is a blight on our communities and costs Scotland’s public purse millions each year to clean up – money that could be better spent on other things.

“The Scottish Government is already taking action to reduce littering, and this research will help inform efforts to put an end to what is unacceptable behaviour.”

Iain Gulland, Chief Executive, Zero Waste Scotland, said:

“This is a fascinating report which reveals what people really think about litter- including some attitudes which they might not always admit to others! This report shows people expect litter to be cleaned up – but it would be much better, socially and economically, if it wasn’t dropped in the first place. In our view, litter is waste in the wrong place – littered items such as plastic bottles and aluminium cans could be worth £1.2 million when recycled.”

“Zero Waste Scotland is leading delivery of the Scottish Government’s ambitious litter strategy, Towards a Litter-Free Scotland, which brings together key stakeholders to deliver measures on enforcement, innovation and infrastructure, including increasing fines and funding innovative local prevention projects.

“We are working to shift the emphasis of anti-litter initiatives from cleaning up what’s dropped or discarded in our public areas, to preventing people from dropping litter in the first place, and this means changing behaviour. So the attitudes revealed in the survey provide a very useful basis for understanding people’s behaviour and shaping how we communicate with people and communities in future anti-litter initiatives.”

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