Public perceptions and concerns around litter

New qualitative research was undertaken in 2014 to build upon previous research on litter and littering behaviour.

Linked to the report 'Scotland's Litter Problem', in our report ‘Scotland’s Litter Problem’this research provides:

  • Deeper insights into how the public perceives litter, how they feel about it, what matters most to them and why
  • A greater understanding of how people talk about litter and describe litter and littering

The research confirmed that littering is a social taboo, but reveals that more people are litterers than they might admit – and that many people see littering behaviour on a sliding scale of acceptability, and are prepared to justify it in certain circumstances.

It also revealed that the people who took part in the research expected 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 of the report are:

  • 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 concerned people

Practical applications

Our research is being used to inform and prioritise work within Zero Waste Scotland’s Litter & Flytipping Programme, which supports delivery of the Scottish Government’s national litter strategy.

In particular it provides insights which build on and reflect the need for a ‘context-specific’ approach to interventions around littering, taking into account a wide range of factors which can influence littering behaviour and developing preventative approaches that can ‘cut through’ and challenge such behaviour. A toolkit of targeted communications materials has been produced and is available to download.

Download the Full Report.

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