“Nobody is going to die from litter, it’s not a priority.”
Attitudes like this are prevalent within local government, unfortunately. Just ask anti-litter campaign group Leithers Don’t Litter who have been on a mission to clean up the streets of Edinburgh since 2015.
One of the group’s founders Zsuzsa Farrell gave a talk at the Scottish Resources Conference last week. And she spoke of a grim reality. A reality in which basic environmental health mandates are all engaged in a race to the bottom for funding as council budgets are cut to the bone. Money’s tight – and the simple fact is litter and dog fouling just can’t compete against social care, education or housing.
Any attempt at litter enforcement just doesn’t work anymore, because there is no enforcement. I see it on the streets of Dundee where I live pretty much every day – canines happily defecating under signs warning of ‘on the spot’ penalty fines for dog fouling. Interestingly, Dundee City Council has just launched a Take pride in your city campaign. Apparently they’re going to get tough on all this stuff – but where have we heard this before?
There is always talk of the need for more education … for better enforcement … and because neither is working, there’s now talk of incentives. Enter the trusted concept of deposit returns to tackle litter (or at least discarded plastic bottles). See, it works so well in places like Germany, so surely we can make it work here in the UK? Well, we will soon find out in Scotland.
But perhaps we are beating the wrong drum. Maybe more effort should be focused on how we can make litter socially unacceptable – we’ve had great success here with smoking and drink driving. Imagine what we could do with chewing gum and dog poo if some creative public campaign marketeers were recruited to the cause.
Carole Noble from Keep Scotland Beautiful also spoke at the conference. She made the great point that we need to change how we talk about litter. It needs to be framed as an economic rather than an environmental problem. Litter tends to blight low-income neighbourhoods and because of this, it can rapidly escalate into a social justice issue – its presence can attract crime, drug use, even prostitution.
lIt's like so many green themes. Once you work out how to humanise them, they become far more engaging and relevant. I think there's so much scope here to link litter to themes that really matter to people. Check out Crapitalism from the imaginative crew at Leithers Don't Litter - it's an excellent starting point.