Scotland’s carrier bag charge is not reducing litter, study finds

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Littering ((Foto: ©Peter-Fenge /http://www.pixelio.de)

Reading, UK — A new litter study reveals a one per cent increase in litter since the Scottish Government launched its new approach “Towards a Litter Free Scotland” in 2014. Supermarket carrier bag litter is up 38 per cent over the same period, despite the introduction of the carrier bag charge two years ago in Scotland. The study was commissioned by the environmental organisation INCPEN and conducted by Keep Scotland Beautiful.

Smaller items of litter were most common, with cigarette butts and gum making up the bulk of the total litter count. These smaller items accumulate over time and are among the most expensive to clean up. Taking the results without gum and butts, the top five kinds of larger pieces of litter were paper (9 per cent), sweet wrappers (6 per cent), soft drink cans (6 per cent), plastic soft drink bottles (6 per cent) and cigarette packets (4 per cent).

Carrier bags represented under half a percent of the total litter count. The carrier bag charge was introduced in Scotland in October 2014 in a bid to tackle litter. However, the study suggests that charges do not change the behaviour of people who litter. It found that supermarket carrier bags have gone up, but other items that do not carry a charge have gone down – the number of drinks containers has decreased by 18 per cent and coffee cups decreased by 36 per cent.

Jane Bickerstaffe, CEO of INCPEN balanced: “Two years on from the introduction of the carrier bag charge in Scotland and numerous campaigns to tackle litter, the problem is as bad as ever. This charge is not reducing the amount people litter. The study suggests that more charges and deposits on items such as disposable coffee cups and drinks bottles will not make a difference. Unlike the bag charge which is avoidable if you take your own bag, imposing new charges would simply place additional financial strain on hard working families.”

Experience of litter prevention suggests that the issue is best tackled through more innovative approaches to engaging communities and changing behaviour. For example, Hubbub’s Neat Streets campaign, which is supported by INCPEN and launched in Edinburgh in July 2016, had significant impact in an earlier scheme in London.

Jane Bickerstaffe commented: “We have to look at fresh approaches to cleaning up our towns and countryside. There are many good local campaigns and initiatives but what’s needed is a long term national programme that makes it socially unacceptable to litter anything. INCPEN recommends that governments look at how we change the behaviour of litterers, so they are proud of their environment and put all rubbish in a bin or take it home.”

According to Zero Waste Scotland’s 2014 report, Scotland has a litter problem:

  • Scotland’s local authorities clear up 15,000 tonnes of litter each year and a further 26,000 tonnes are illegally flytipped
  • Over half the population of Scotland have littered
  • £46m per year is spent clearing up litter and flytipping
  • £7m per year is spent on enforcement and education on litter and flytipping Source: Zero Waste Scotland’s 2014 report “Scotland’s Litter Problem”

Source: The Industry Council for research on Packaging & the Environment (INCPEN)