Fringe litter crisis: Edinburgh overflows with rubbish

Bins overflow leaving rubbish across Princes Street Gardens East. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Bins overflow leaving rubbish across Princes Street Gardens East. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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A LITTER crisis has sparked urgent demands to clean up the city’s streets as overflowing bins create an eyesore at the height of the tourism season.

Business chiefs, campaigners and politicians have called for tougher action, including litter patrols to hit an increasing number of litterbugs with £80 on-the-spot fines.

Princes Street Gardens. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Princes Street Gardens. Picture: Ian Georgeson

There are also calls for an increase in bin collections to meet the rising tide of rubbish during the Festival.

The city’s 500,000 population doubles in August as entertainers and visitors descend upon the city for a month.

• Comment: Locals want Edinburgh to look its best

But overflowing bins and rubbish-strewn streets have prompted fears the council is not doing enough to keep the streets clean. MSP Cameron Buchanan said the city centre was the “worst he had seen it” in the last four years.

Overflowing bins on Lady Lawson Street. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Overflowing bins on Lady Lawson Street. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Mr Buchanan said the situation was now a “disgrace.”

“It reflects badly on our tourist industry and other cities seem to treat the problem much more seriously,” he said.

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“You don’t have this in other European cities. The city council is using the Fringe as an excuse. They know the population doubles during the Festival so they shouldn’t be taken by surprise.

“Rubbish collectors and road sweepers need to come more often, particularly at night.”

Edinburgh Napier University business commentator Graham Birse said that enforcement – rather than more rubbish collections – is the key.

“If we applied the law with the same enthusiasm for littering as we do for parking then the problem would disappear overnight,” he said.

“Fixed penalty powers are there and what we need is more wardens and wider enforcement, including from the police.”

Meanwhile, city chiefs have claimed they are on top of the problem, with extra bins, more street-cleaning shifts and 33 additional staff.

Chas Booth, Green councillor for Leith, insisted there was “a lot more” the council could do, particularly in the city centre.

“Some of my constituents complain that there are not enough litter bins and that they are not emptied often enough,” he said.

“Keeping the city clean is a basic requirement of the council and if this is not happening, they really need to get their act together.

“If we are getting reports that there is particularly bad litter then the council doesn’t seem to have a grip on it and they need to do so quickly.

“It is essential for a city of Edinburgh’s size and reputation that we get on top of this and stay on top for the benefit of residents and visitors alike.”

Award-winning litter campaigner Pip Wallen-Priestly, 60, of Leith, estimated that littering across the city had spiralled “threefold” compared to last year. He has recently reported the problem to the city council’s environmental health department, asking for more bins and litter wardens.

Conservative councillor Joanna Mowat claimed the sheer volume of visitors to the city during the Fringe was part of the problem.

She also stressed that the council needed a more “joined-up” approach, with both street cleaning and bin collection “centrally organised”.

“If street bins aren’t emptied at the right time, waste builds up. Street cleaners have to deal with that.

“If litter bins don’t get emptied streets get dirtier. Until the structural organisational problems are solved it is difficult to see the service improving.

“I look at pristine streets in a city in Europe which has lots of tourists while Edinburgh wallows in waste.

“It simply is not good enough. It is letting residents down and gives a bad impression to visitors.”

Keep Scotland Beautiful carries out four independent assessments of cleanliness of streets each year (CIMS surveys).

The last survey published figures in March that show Edinburgh is “exceeding targets”.

Data published later this month is expected to still show the council is continuing to 
exceed targets.

Pest controllers have, however, reported a huge spike in rat numbers which they claim is directly linked to litter problems.

Rats have been found in areas including Rose Street, Queensferry Street in the West End, Lochend, the Grassmarket and Caledonian Crescent.

Sylvia Hill, a director of Wee Critters pest control company, said she had never seen as a many rats.

“We have seen an increase in rats over the last six months of more than 100 per cent and not just confined to the city centre.

“They seem to be moving a bit further afield. We have also discussed things with other pest control companies and 
Edinburgh is far worse than Glasgow for rats. It is the worst in Scotland.”

Environment convener Councillor Lesley Hinds, said: “Edinburgh’s fantastic festivals programme and host of world-class attractions mean we are lucky enough to welcome millions of visitors each summer.

“But, while this kind of increase in footfall is a great boost for the city, it also means a real stretch on our resources.

“The war on litter in Edinburgh is constant and during the busy festivals season it’s harder than ever. That’s why each year we bring in extra staff to help us cope with the load.

“We install larger bins, increasing collections and upping enforcement.

“That said, it’s no easy task to keep our streets spick-and-span with so many people descending upon the Capital each year.

“Our staff work around the clock making every effort to do so, but we also really rely on the support of the public to keep Edinburgh clean.

“I really hope that everyone living and spending time in our beautiful city thinks before they drop, helping us to rid the city’s streets of litter and keep Edinburgh the world-class capital it is.”

Street cleaners out in force

STREET cleaners are fighting back against the rising tide of rubbish.

The city council has put on two extra street cleaning shifts, with 18 staff on the early shift and five on the late. Two additional workers are also covering both shifts within Princes Street Gardens, Calton Hill and Regent Road Gardens.

There is an extra vehicle, driver and loader, dedicated to litter bin emptying between 10am and 7pm, along main routes within the city centre from Haymarket to St Andrew Square and Princes Street to the High Street and Bridges.

The Night Cleansing Team has one driver and three extra staff to clean the Pleasance, Meadows and Bruntsfield, which runs seven days a week.

Larger capacity bins have replaced smaller ones at hotspots and wardens are patrolling between 7am and 7pm. There is also an additional shift running until 10pm on “certain days”.