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Litter and flytipping - the costs and the consequences

Scotland’s a beautiful place, blessed with breath-taking landscapes and iconic attractions. Sadly, we’re also stuck with a litter problem. 


It’s impossible to ignore empty food cartons in the gutter, crisps bags blowing along the streets, or an old fridge dumped at the side of the road. But the true impact goes far beyond dirty streets, or the financial costs of clearing it all up. 


Litter has social, environmental, economic, and health implications across Scotland. Many of them are being ignored because they're difficult to see. But they exist. We have the research to prove it.


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The facts


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15,000 tonnes

That’s a conservative estimate of the weight of litter dumped on our streets and open spaces every year.



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That’s 250 million easily visible items – and it doesn’t even include cigarette butts or chewing gum (the expensive commonly littered items to clean up).


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170 incidents a day

In Scotland there are around 170 flytipping incidents every day, involving an estimated 26,000 tonnes of waste each year.



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£11 million

Flytipping on public land costs Scottish tax payers more than £11 million a year.



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At least 50% of Scotland’s litter could be recycled, around half of that could be easily recycled if it was properly disposed of.

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15,000 tonnes of litter is equivalent to:

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Adult male Asian elephants

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European passenger cars

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Washing machines

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What does this mean for Scotland?

There are lots of ways that this litter impacts on the people of Scotland, directly and indirectly.

Direct costs:

  • Scotland's local authorities spend over £46 million a year dealing with litter  and flytipping
  • A further £4.5 million is spent on litter enforecement and education
  • Flytipping enforcement costs £2 million a year

That’s around £53 million ‘lost’ because people put their waste in the wrong place. And that money comes from people’s taxes. The message is simple: the less people litter, the less money we spend cleaning it up. And the more resources we have for improving our communities in other ways

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Indirect costs:

Our research found that the indirect cost of Scotland's litter and flytipping problem is likely to exceed £25 million. And it’s not unreasonable to think that it could be much higher.  But where do these indirect costs come from?


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Social costs:

The impacts of litter on communities takes many different forms, seen and unseen. Litter affects the quality of life for everyone in the area.

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Dirty streets

The Scottish Household Survey shows that litter is a common concern in Scottish neighbourhoods. 28% of people said rubbish or litter lying around was “very or fairly common”. 25% said they’ve experienced litter as a problem.

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Negative perceptions

Litter can taint people’s perception of an area and reduce enjoyment of our towns, villages, and countryside.

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Dropping house prices 

The impact of litter could wipe as mich as £100 million off the value of Scotland's housing stock. That's a low estimate, which assumes litter only affects 1% of housing.

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A poor visitor experience can harm tourism, with a kock-on effect on local economies. It's difficult to separate litter from other factors, but the bottom line is that people are less likely to come back to a place that's covered in litter.

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Health and safety

Litter can have major physical impacts on the environment - it can also affect our behaviours and state of mind.

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Health and well-being

Local environment quality, of which litter is an important element, can be a contributing factor in depression. A low-end estimate puts the cost of litter as a contributory factor at £10.7 million.

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Road accidents 

Litter tossed from cars can become an obstacle on the road. The cost of accidents caused by litter sits at around £1 million — but could be as much as £4.8 million. Punctures caused by litter could cost a similar sum.

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Nature and wildlife 

It's not just our built environment that is harmed by litter. Litter can inflict real damage on nature and wildlife.

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Discarded cigarette butts can cause fires, and other waste readily provides fuel. The cost of this is at leaste £66,000 a year.

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A study in Shetland identified £215,000 of costs associated with injuries to cattle - largely caused by plastic litter blown ashore. The same study suggests that at least £100,000 may be spent in Scotland rescuing animals caught in litter.

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Why we need a zero-litter approach 

It’s clear that Scotland’s litter problem is costing us in many ways. That’s why we need a zero-litter approach, to cut it out completely.

Simply picking up litter won’t solve the issue long-term, but adopting a zero-litter approach can make a real difference. Why?

  • Litter attracts more litter – it’s a vicious circle that we must break and not burden future generations of Scots with the impacts of litter we have today.
  • More community investment – we spend at least £46 million of public money clearing up litter and flytipping each year. That could be spent improving our local communities and Scotland’s essential services.
  • Better quality of life – the impact of litter goes far beyond the financial consequences; it can have a detrimental effect on the quality of life in Scotland.
  • Grow our economy – reusing and recycling resources efficiently helps to retain value in Scotland’s economy.

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