Calls to stop ‘litter emergency’ as no fines issued by Edinburgh’s street teams since start of lockdown despite concerns over trashed parks in summer

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Campaigners have called for action to stop a “litter emergency” as it emerged Edinburgh’s street teams have not issued any fines since the start of lockdown - despite public concerns about parks in the city being trashed regularly in the summer.

New figures, released under freedom of information laws, revealed 13 fixed penalty notices (FPNs) for littering were issued this year in the Capital up to mid March - mainly in the city centre but also in areas like Clerk Street, Glengyle Terrace and Leith Walk.

Penalties of £80 for littering can be issued by police, councils and other public bodies such as national park authorities and typical reasons for fines might include dropped cigarette ends, chewing gum, food waste and packaging thrown from moving vehicles.

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In both Edinburgh and Glasgow, council litter enforcement was postponed at the beginning of lockdown over safety concerns about virus transmission, with staff in the Capital doing other work from home - but several other Scottish local authorities which we contacted, such as Aberdeen and Dundee, continued with their fines enforcement in the summer.

Littering and overflowing bins at parks and beaches across Edinburgh were a regular occurrence at weekends during lockdown. Images: Dode Allen/ Pentland Hills HQLittering and overflowing bins at parks and beaches across Edinburgh were a regular occurrence at weekends during lockdown. Images: Dode Allen/ Pentland Hills HQ
Littering and overflowing bins at parks and beaches across Edinburgh were a regular occurrence at weekends during lockdown. Images: Dode Allen/ Pentland Hills HQ

Glasgow City Council dished out 956 fines in the first three months of 2020 and has issued a whopping total of nearly 50,000 FPNs since 2015, while Edinburgh recorded 925 over the same time period. There are dedicated community enforcement officers in Glasgow and those caught littering are given the option to help with community clean-ups instead.

Edinburgh Green councillor Gavin Corbett said it was “disappointing” to see so few fines being handed out but added: “That said, I don’t think that enforcement is the main answer to this. A much more radical approach would dramatically reduce the amount of throwaway packaging and single use plastic, coupled with a big focus on education and community action. Prevention of litter is always going to be the big prize.

“Litter is a major concern for residents and of course it can be lethal for wildlife and cause big problems for choked drains and watercourses. While the vast majority of people are responsible with litter it only takes a few to leave a real mess.”

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Several Edinburgh Evening News reports during the summer highlighted how careless revellers left thousands of items of litter in and around the city’s parks and Portobello Beach, as well as in spots like the Pentlands.

At the end of June, an army of volunteers took it upon themselves to clean up the mess left behind in the Meadows and used the litter collected to write out the number of people who had died from coronavirus at that point.

And in July it emerged that complaints about overflowing bins in the Capital soared by 77 percent in May compared to the previous year.

Unpaid Litter Fines

At the start of September this newspaper asked all 32 Scottish councils how many litter fines were issued to people for dropping litter in public over the past five years, with 26 local authorities responding.

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A huge 49,977 fines were issued in Glasgow with the second highest council area being North Lanarkshire with 2,874. Edinburgh was third in the list with 925 fines and Aberdeen City was fourth with 903.

A total of 57,390 fines were issued and 22,645 remain unpaid, excluding penalty notices which have been cancelled or withdrawn for reasons such as people leaving the UK.

It means nearly 40 percent of all fines issued by local authorities across Scotland remain unpaid to date.

Over the past five years, nearly all Scottish councils have recorded a notable decline in the number of litter fines being issued, although East Dunbartonshire appears to be defying this trend.

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In 2015 in Edinburgh, there were 669 FPNs issued compared to 35 in 2019, while the corresponding figures for Glasgow have fallen from more than 13,600 to 4,609.

Some local authorities - including Midlothian and Perth and Kinross - have not issued any fines at all in the past five years.

Barry Fisher, chief executive of Keep Scotland Beautiful, said: “We have warned that Scotland is facing the prospect of a litter emergency. Enforcement is a key part of the solution to our litter problem, alongside education initiatives, campaigns and adequate facilities for disposal.

“We recognise that the current enforcement system is not working. Since 2014 there has been a decrease in the number of FPNs issued for both litter and dog fouling offences across Scotland with a consistent payment rate of less than 50 percent. We are calling for a full review of the existing, failing enforcement model to assess the most effective and efficient approach.

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“However, the simple fact is that if we all took responsibility for our waste there would be no litter and no need for enforcement.”

Councillor Karen Doran, vice environment convener, said: “Keeping Edinburgh beautiful for everyone to enjoy is a top priority for us. We’re also very aware of the damaging effects of litter clogging up waterways and many discarded items such as masks being dangerous to wildlife.

“Our waste teams have been working hard throughout the pandemic to keep the city clean and tidy but we need the public to help us by binning their litter or taking it home with them.

“Enforcement is just one way to tackle the issue and we’ve been partnering with other organisations such as Zero Waste Scotland and Keep Scotland Beautiful over the summer to run educational campaigns. To adhere to government guidance our officers weren’t out carrying out their normal duties such as issuing littering fixed penalty notices during lockdown and the service is still getting back to normal due to the knock on effect on our resources since the pandemic began.”

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Police officers also have the power to issue fixed penalty notices for littering and any fines issued by the force would not be included in these latest figures.

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