Opinion – Litter is disfiguring Scotland

Ryan Clark is CEO of Safer Scotland

By Ryan Clark is CEO of Safer Scotland.

It seems to be a problem that never goes away. But there is something that can be done about it.

THOSE who try to distil human nature into a basic formula sometimes incline to the view that there are really only two types of people in the world – those who take their litter home and those who don’t.

Simplistic though this may be, it certainly appears that the second category are in the ascendancy in Scotland just now, with the country floundering in a sea of thoughtlessly-discarded rubbish.

Ironically, this gratuitous disfiguration takes place in some of the most beautiful and often fragile locations – places which, in any rational analysis, should be respected and enjoyed rather than despoiled.

And it is not just beauty spots. Our city centres, public spaces, parks and highways are all blighted. It is a rather dispiriting experience to look out of the car window at a junction where the traffic is held up for any length of time and see the piles of discarded cans, bottles, cigarette packets and fast-food packaging.

A lot of media focus this year has been on the countryside, as people who have been locked down for a year sally out to enjoy some fresh air and exercise. Unfortunately, many of these people may not be familiar with the tenets of the countryside code, or even with the concepts of respect and consideration for others.

As a result, there has been an explosion in careless dumping of disposable barbecues, beer cans, face masks and even distasteful things like used toilet paper. The idea of bringing a bag for litter and taking it away often does not seem to occur.

The scale of the problem is staggering and should be an affront to any self-respecting country. Zero Waste Scotland reckons that 41,000 tonnes of litter are collected each year at a cost of £53 million – and these figures come from before the pandemic.

What can be done? How can the minority who so casually spoil things for everyone else be incentivised to do the right thing?

The answers are complex, and those at the sharp end of the problem who work to influence positive behavioural change talk about the need for education and awareness initiatives, communications activities and simple solutions such as more bins.

But perhaps the litterers who just don’t care whether they leave a mess, or those who say that because they pay council tax it’s someone else’s job to pick up after them, need a different type of incentive – a financial penalty.

Some councils in England have already installed littering cameras, where software matches footage of litter being thrown out of a car with the vehicle’s licence plate, and thus to details of the owner. Culprits could be fined up to £120.

In Scotland, there is already provision for £80 fines for littering. Is the answer to put cameras at affected parking areas and other litter hotspots to at least start to enforce the fines with evidence?

At current levels of offending, it is likely that each camera would pay for itself. The system could be backed up with video analytics to identify littering and send an automated Tannoy message to the miscreants.

At Safer Scotland, we have been an active voice in raising awareness and have already publicised the scourge of fly-tipping and the need for action. It is unacceptable that, while Scotland has legislation and fine tariffs designed to deter littering, lack of consistent enforcement makes them ineffective.

Gathering evidence-quality images or video of littering has never been easier to achieve, thanks to technological innovation.

Installing a litter detection and evidence capture solution at rural car parks and beauty spots will enable the application of £80 fines, generate a revenue stream to support the fight and show that the legislation has teeth.

We have already implemented numerous remote solutions, incorporating a wider range of services that include drone surveys of land to identify litter and fly-tipping instances or to create 3D terrain models and enhance camera location deployments.

The great majority of people will be appalled at the ongoing desecration of the Scottish countryside and will respond to appeals to their better nature. For those who never will, a significant financial penalty is a justifiable alternative.

It is time we made it work.

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