You will have seen a few rants about litter, waste and fly tipping on this blog (if you haven’t, try here, here and here). It is a major problem on our nature reserves and the impression is that in the last 18 months of the pandemic the problem is getting worse. Some might say that it is down to the exceptional circumstances of lockdowns and restrictions but others might say that people may have used the excuse of the pandemic to ignore their responsibilities about waste.
There seems to be 2 ways of improving the situation – 1) working with the companies that produce the producers that are the source of a lot of the litter. 2) working with the public who do the littering to change their behaviour.
As you would expect the Scottish Government have a strategy to reduce litter called “Towards a litter-free Scotland – a strategic approach to higher quality local environments” – see here . They are looking to develop policies that might help to change the situation in society.
As part of the policy Scottish Government have identified a number of interventions or actions that they think will make the difference. These actions encourage personal responsibility through improvement or provision of information, infrastructure and enforcement, as well as working with companies and businesses to make recycling and responsible disposal of litter easier.
One such innovation that is heading our way and might reduce the amount of discarded waste is a Deposit Return Scheme or Reverse Vending. A Reverse Vending Scheme charges a small deposit on a product in a container with the deposit being returned to the purchaser when they return the container after use. Zero Waste Scotland who have developed the scheme (more info here) suggest that a Deposit Return Scheme that charged a 20p deposit on drinks containers would offer a number of benefits:
34,000 fewer plastic bottles littered every day
76,000 additional tonnes recycled each year
90% of containers included in the scheme will be captured for recycling
4 million tonnes of CO2eq emissions will be cut over 25 years
£62 million a year could be saved tackling the indirect impacts of litter
Some businesses like Lidl (here) are already setting up reverse vending machines and the Scottish Government has set up an organisation to manage the system – Circularity Scotland Ltd (more here). But there is a suggestion that the impacts of the pandemic and the complexity of setting up the infrastructure is going to delay the launch of the Deposit Return Scheme beyond the project launch of July 2022. South of the border the Government has delayed the start of their Deposit Return scheme to 2024.
So nothing on this is going to happen soon but when it does it could have some affect. At a early summer litter pick at Loch Lomond we picked up 122 items (glass bottles, 63 plastic bottles, 28 metal cans) that could potential fall into this system and if all had gone back to a reverse vending machine it would have considerable lightened our litter sacks. But would they all have been responsibly disposed of?
In the end schemes like this can help but at the bottom of this issue is people and their behaviour. We need people to develop a shared understanding of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour which is central to motivating them to change their behaviour, stop littering and fly tipping and recycle more. To put it simply, we need litter to become socially unacceptable – like drink driving has, or smoking indoors. And for that to happen the right behaviour needs to be set amongst friends, families, schools and work places. We already have secret heroes going beyond what is responsible behaviour – we just need more of the tidiers and less of of the tossers.
So in the meantime we will continue to keep our reserves as clear from litter as possible as this seems to make a bit of a difference – people are less likely to litter or fly tip a clean site than one that is covered, work with the local communities and look forward to society changing.
It is a never-ending problem that you have highlighted here. I can only laud what you are currently doing and hope that in the meanwhile public awareness of the issue begins to take root.
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I’ve been litter picking once a week along the Water of Leith in Edinburgh for over ten years now (volunteering with the river’s conservation trust). Over that time I’ve seen a definite decrease in general litter (though no change in the number of littered picnic sites etc). Also, a number of people now pick up litter along the river while they’re out walking their dogs.
Over lockdown, the littering problem has got worse in many areas though
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Hi Juliet, you are like our secret heroes that clear up litter on our reserves. We find that if you keep the reserves as clear of litter as possible then less is thrown – same applies to fly tipping – but definitely since lockdown it has got worse. All the best ..DP
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