We need a shift in culture to end littering legacy - Alison Johnstone

While shops, cafes and other businesses have been closed, more and more people have been enjoying our amazing green spaces across Lothian.

Monday, 22nd March 2021, 11:00 pm

As well as the seven hills of the ‘Athens of the North’, we’ve seen more people on the Pentlands, in the Meadows and other parks and there’s no doubt the fairer weather has also encouraged this.

Green spaces are such an important part of our lives. They are vital for our mental health, for wildlife, and add considerable economic value too, so it is very encouraging to see so many people taking advantage of them.

But we’ve also seen an increase in litter, which devalues them and shows a lack of appreciation for how damaging this can be. Litter and fly tipping was already getting worse in Scotland before the pandemic, and this seems to have been exacerbated in recent months, as people take to parks and other places with take-away food and drink. Bins are frequently overflowing and people are placing litter next to bins, instead of taking it home.

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Of course, local authorities have a responsibility to empty such bins, but we must recognise that they have been facing immense challenges supporting the vulnerable and maintaining front line services during this crisis.

Council staff deserve our thanks for everything they have done during the pandemic, but they also deserve us to play our part too. It’s the best way for us to show gratitude.

Placing rubbish next to a bin is still littering. So while the current programme of emptying bins and cleaning parks is not meeting this rising demand, there needs to be a long overdue cultural shift too.

In non-pandemic times many fantastic well-established community litter pick schemes take place regularly across Edinburgh and the Lothians. These community clean-ups bring people together to take an active role in keeping their local green space beautiful and accessible for all. I look forward to helping in this effort when it’s safe to do so.

It is a shame that such clean ups need to exist, but the more people that get involved, the greater the likelihood of embedding culture change so that littering becomes a thing of the past. We need to raise awareness of what a positive contribution we can make collectively to efforts to develop a truly circular economy. Education has a key role to play here too and a properly resourced entitlement to outdoor education for our young people and qualifications that help us tackle the climate and nature emergencies can help develop a deep respect for our environment.

Of course, culture change starts at the top, and both local and national governments can do more. I welcome the new £70m fund launched to boost recycling announced recently by the Scottish Government, and I would encourage councils to make the most of it.

But we could have the best recycling infrastructure in the world, and we still wouldn’t become a zero-waste society unless we tackle the scourge of single use plastics by industry and start to shift the throw-away culture that still blights so many of our green spaces. Companies continue to profit from producing waste that we can’t recycle. They must pay for the impact of their pollution. We’ve never spent so much time so close to home. We have a right to live in safe, clean neighbourhoods. Together, we can keep the Lothians beautiful. Our future depends on it.