Scotland’s Litter Problem

Quantifying the scale and cost of litter and flytipping.

In 2014 the Scottish Government published its national litter strategy ‘Towards a Litter-Free Scotland: A strategic approach to higher quality local environments’

To inform the development of the strategy, and supported by the Scottish Government, Zero Waste Scotland undertook a programme of research to identify:

  • how much littering and flytipping takes place in Scotland;
  • what waste types litter and flytipping is made up of;
  • what litter and flytipping costs Scottish society each year;
  • what is known about the causes of the problem (specifically in relation to littering); and
  • evidence on effective countermeasures

The ‘Scotland’s Litter Problem’ report summarises that research programme.

Two independent studies were commissioned to inform the report: ’Rapid Evidence Review of Littering Behaviour and Anti-Litter Policies’ (link to webpage); and ‘Exploring the Indirect Costs of Litter in Scotland’ (link to webpage). In addition, we commissioned survey work with Scottish local authorities to better understand litter and flytipping costs and estimates of waste volumes. Environmental charity Keep Scotland Beautiful also provided assistance in collecting information on current local authority practice and community initiatives.

Key statistical findings of the report are included in our infographic.

In considering behaviours, this report focuses specifically on litter rather than on flytipping.

Key findings with regard to littering behaviour are:

  • No single group or demographic are inherent “litterers”. Around half the population admit to having littered “at some point”, whether deliberately, accidentally, or simply without thinking.
  • Though some demographic groups are more likely to litter, they may be motivated to do so by particular circumstances that they find themselves in
  • These circumstances may be influenced by Individual(I), Social(S) and Material(M) factors which affect peoples’ behaviour - for example: peoples’ own beliefs as to what does and does not constitute littering(I); what people believe is expected of them(S); the provision of adequate litter bins(M)

The types of countermeasures that the report identified as having, or potentially having, an impact on littering and flytipping fall within:

  • Education and awareness initiatives
  • Communications activities
  • Infrastructure
  • Enforcement
  • Better monitoring

Building on this research programme a range of interventions across the three broad themes of Information, Infrastructure and Enforcement are included in the national litter strategy and provide the focus for its implementation across Scotland.

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