Login/Register ZWS
Main content

Information for members of the public

The following summarises current understanding of the legislative framework and does not constitute legal advice.

It is everyone’s responsibility to make sure that we dispose of our materials correctly to avoid litter and flytipping occurring in our environment. Preventing litter and refuse from happening in the first place helps to reduce the resources required to clean up and stops these materials damaging our environment, keeping Scotland a beautiful place to live, work and visit.

As well as making sure people do the right thing, there are also laws in place to help tackle the problem. This information is provided to help people understand the laws around litter and refuse.  

What the legislation says

There are two duties within section 89 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (EPA 1990) that mean certain organisations (mostly public bodies) are to ensure, as far as is practicable:

  1. Keep land clear of litter and refuse
  2. Keep roads clean

Duty 1 applies to land and roads of Local Authorities, Scottish Ministers, Crown Authorities, Crown Estate, Educational Institutions and Transport Operators. Relevant land in most cases must be owned or managed by these duty holders, be publically accessible and open to the air. It includes paved areas, roads, parks, embankments, land covered by water.

Litter is regarded as ‘waste in the wrong place’, individual or a small number of items are thrown down, dropped or deposited and left in a public place by any person.

Refuse is waste material or in general terms rubbish, including household and commercial waste, flytipped waste and dog faeces. Refuse generally tends to be larger items than those categorised as litter.

Duty 2 applies to roads owned and managed by Local Authorities and Scottish Ministers. Local authorities are responsible for A (except special roads),B and C class roads as well as local roads and Scottish Ministers are responsible for M class roads and special roads.  

Clean refers to the removal of detritus from roads, duty holders also need to consider what else might make a road appear unclean.

How do duty holders know what counts as duty fulfilment?

The Scottish Government provides practical guidance to duty holders to help them fulfil the duties. The Code of Practice on Litter and Refuse (CoPLAR) is a statutory guidance document issued under Section 89 (7) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and duty holders must have regard to it.

The principle underpinning CoPLAR is preventing litter and refuse from occurring the first place, over £1million per week is spent in Scotland tackling a problem that shouldn’t exist if people and organisations managed their waste responsibly allowing this money to be used for other public services. This includes a range of tactics including: communication, infrastructure, enforcement and partnership working.

CoPLAR provides a framework for duty holders to work to support them to meet the duties, this includes:

  • Grades to measure the scale of the problem, where grade A means the duty is met, and other grades measure how far from grade A an area is.
    • Duty 1 is graded from A-F and provides a number of items relating to each grade
    • Duty 2 is graded from A-D dependent on the build-up of detritus
  • Zoning land to understand the risk of problems occurring based on the number of people/vehicles using the area and the type of premises that may contribute to litter building up
    • Zones 1-5 can be applied to land, with zone 1 areas being the highest risk of litter and refuse occurring and zone 5 the lowest risk
    • Zone 6 is for roads above 40mph and operational railway land
    • Zones should be published and you can find out which zone an area is by contacting the relevant land owner
  • Response times given to restore an area to a grade A standard based on the zone category and the amount of litter/refuse in an area i.e. the more litter the quicker it should be restored.
    • Where health and safety, access or equipment need to be considered then special considerations may apply and extended response times are provided to allow for measures to be put in place.
    • Response times come into effect at the pointthe duty holder has become aware of the problem
    • Duty holders who take an effective prevention first approach can progress through the extended response time bands

Detailed information is provided in the Code of Practice on Litter and Refuse (Scotland) 2018

What can I do if I notice a problem?

1. Tell the duty holder responsible for the land you are concerned about, providing as much information as possible including location, what the problem is and if possible include photographs. You can refer to the grades provided in CoPLAR to describe the scale of the problem.

If you continue to be concerned you should follow this up with them and take it to the next level of their complaint procedures.

2. If you remain concerned you can refer the complaint to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.

3. If you are concerned about a duty holder you can also apply to the Sheriff Court to issue a Litter Abatement Order which requires the duty holder to rectify the problem within a specified time. The court will want to understand the evidence and all the circumstances of the allegation. The Code of Practice on Litter and Refuse can be used as evidence in court. This involves a number of steps:

  • Make sure you have as much information as possible to make your application - this could include timestamped photographs, location information, correspondence with the duty holder and any other relevant information.
  • You will have to submit a formal notice to the relevant body of your intention to take your application to the Sheriff Court, specifying the matter of the complaint. You must give at least a 5 day notice period of your intent to make a summary application against them (Section 91 (5) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.)
  • If after the minimum 5 day notice period the litter has not been cleared, you can make your application to the Sheriff Court. This should include the information you have collected and the steps taken regarding the problem.
  • Your application will then proceed through the court process, (the; timescales will be determined by the courts).
  • If the duty holder is able to evidence that they have complied then with their duty an order won’t be made by the court (Section 91 (7) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.)The duty holder should justify the approach they have taken, how they may have had regard to the code of practice and how they have fulfilled their duty as far as is practicable.
  • If the sheriff is satisfied the land is defaced by litter, refuse or detritus a Litter Abatement Order will be issued requiring the body to clear the litter and refuse or clean the road within a time specified in the order (Section 91 (6) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990)
  • If the sheriff is satisfied the land was defaced at the time of application and that there were reasonable grounds for making the application, the sheriff can order the body to pay expenses incurred by you in making the application and proceedings before the court (Section 91 (12) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990).  Please note however that the sheriff may also award against the applicant.

Can I take any landowner to court?

Litter Abatement Orders do not apply to privately owned land which is not open to public access.

What can I do if the problem is on private land?

The person/organisation who owns or manages the private land is responsible for keeping their land in order. You could contact the land manager to report the issue.

In some circumstances local authorities can take action regarding litter and rubbish on private land; however, the local authority itself is not responsible for clearing litter from privately-owned land.

If waste on a piece of private land causes a nuisance or environmental health issue then you should report it to your local authority. If you suspect that a piece of land is being used to dump waste illegally you should report it to your local authority or local SEPA office.

What can I do to prevent litter in my area?

Duty holder may have the responsibility to keep land clear but individuals have a responsibility to prevent litter and flytipping:

  • Make use of communications materials to help prevent litter in your local area.
  • Organise or take part in a clean-up event with a focus on engaging with volunteers around prevention. Boost local community spirit, empower local people to take pride in their area and play a part in preventing and reducing littering.
    • Involve local businesses, groups and individuals
    • Promote your event and the outcomes in local press
    • Make it a regular thing with different themes throughout the year or tie it into other events in your area
    • You can register your event with Clean Up Scotland and also order a clean-up kit
  • Work with your wider community to transform hotspot area, preventing litter and flytipping  and providing spaces for the community to use. 
  • Support any communications campaigns nationally or in your local area – for example use social media to spread the message to your community of friends
  • Encourage your friends and family and wider community to take responsibility for their waste
  • Make use of the facilities available in your local community to prevent litter and flytipping:
    • Use litter bins and Recycle on the Go bins to dispose of your waste correctly
    • If there isn’t a bin available, take your waste home or keep hold of it until you find one
    • If you have large items you no longer need that are still in good condition, you can have them collected for free by calling the National re-use phone line
    • Make use of your nearest Household Waste and Recycling Centre or Recycling Point
    • Request a bulky or special uplift by contacting your local authority
    • Make best use of all options available through your kerbside collection to ensure that you are recycling as much as possible and avoiding unnecessary waste
  • Report local litter and flytipping hotspots to your Local Authority or relevant land manager
  • Household waste and recycling bins are often a source of litter (and sometimes flytipping) due to incorrect storage and presentation, the weather, vermin being attracted to them or through vandalism. Ensure your bins and storage areas are kept clean and secure, and that household bins are presented as close as possible to the collection time and taken back into premises afterwards.
  • Report missing or damaged infrastructure (waste, litter and recycling bins) to your Local Authority or land manager, so they can rectify this or engage the responsible party. This includes infrastructure that has been damaged (e.g. by vandalism)




Close Search

Search form