New impetus in the fight against litter

Last week I helped launch the Scottish Government’s first ever national litter strategy at the Scott Monument in Edinburgh.  The strategy, which is based on new research and an extensive consultation, has one clear goal – to clean up Scotland’s litter problem.  It’s clear that where litter is concerned, there’s a real appetite for change, and the strategy aims to lead this.

Written By Iain Gulland - Chief Executive, Zero Waste Scotland  |  18 Jun 14

While the strategy does include tried and tested activities like encouraging local clean ups and increased fines for littering and fly-tipping, there’s a definite need to think wider and inspire action of a different kind.  Our role at Zero Waste Scotland is to drive delivery, and it’s important to me that in doing this we identify some real game changers.  I’m hoping to see fresh thinking, innovative solutions, and most importantly, a real collaborative effort.  

The Scottish Government’s new marketing campaign, also launched last week, with its eye-catching ‘Dirty Little Secrets’ concept, certainly ticks the ‘fresh thinking’ box.  The campaign is sure to capture the attention of the public and get people talking, but what’s particularly great about it for me is that it considers litter from a different angle, and encourages the viewer to do so too.  

This concept of considering litter in a different way is integral to the new strategy.  Litter isn’t just about crisp packets and bottles blighting our pavements and parks. It’s also about the waste of money and resources, both in terms of the cost of clean-up and the loss of value to the economy. 

The trick for recycling has been the shift in thinking about waste as a valuable resource which can benefit the wider economy rather than an end of pipe liability, draining the public purse and limiting opportunity.  Tackling litter and fly-tipping is as important to our zero waste ambitions as the circular economy and resource efficiency. That’s why I think there is a strong link between the launch of the Litter Free Scotland Strategy and Recycle Week this week.  

We’ve shown from our work to increase recycling that behaviour change is a balance of getting the infrastructure and systems right and giving individuals the tools and motivation they need to take action.  We’ve already funded nearly 3,000 public recycling-on-the-go bins and will fund more through the new strategy.  In fact, one fun way we are trying to motivate people to support Recycle Week is by asking them to send us a tweet to @ZeroWasteScot of them using a recycling bin while they are out and about.   There are prizes up for grabs for the best photos, but the real prize would be gained by those who commit to always use them in future, and never drop valuable materials as litter.  

Another way we’ve considered the balance between infrastructure and reward is through our trial reward schemes. We are investigating the potential role for container deposit systems on behalf of the Scottish Government, both of which are about driving up recycling rates but also about tackling litter. The success of infrastructure schemes is matching them up with the realities of how we all behave.  Such integrated approaches are at the heart of the new litter strategy.

If you were still in any doubt over the relationship between litter and recycling then I would draw your attention to the recent Green Week in Brussels which I attended earlier this month.  The themes of the event, which marks the biggest annual conference on European environmental policy, were the circular economy and resource efficiency, and the various presentations and conversations were all around the importance of harnessing economic impact from increased recycling and closed loop systems. But well integrated into the programme were discussions on the issue of tackling litter and the wasted opportunities in terms of resources and jobs. This signals the growing realisation at policy level that litter is important to any holistic approach to how we manage resources.

We are absolutely clear that litter has no place in a zero waste society, and we now have the right policy drivers, strategy, and resources in place to fundamentally address this issue.  I’m looking forward to our leading role in making that happen.

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