As the city’s month-long festival period draws to a close, we can reflect again on Edinburgh’s success on the world stage. However, as the international media and visitors from all corners of the globe head home, and as we celebrate the city’s achievements, let’s also consider the impact that our very successful Festival has on our local environment.
Too often, the impact has been too obvious – with a growing challenge every year to cope with increasing litter, often deliberately and irresponsibly discarded.
We can have, indeed must have, a wider conversation about using resources more sustainably. We use far too much single-use packaging, and whilst there is some welcome attention now focusing on single-use coffee cups and drinks bottles and cans, too little attention is paid to the wider unsustainable use of resources and the amount that ends up littered.
Importantly, littering is self-perpetuating. Discarded litter encourages others to act irresponsibly. How much more unacceptable does it seem to discard food wrappings in an environment that is clean and tidy, than it does in an environment already blighted by litter on the streets and pavements? That said, a walk around the Festival’s key venues and surroundings would make clear the scale of the litter problem on our streets.
The key shift we as a society have to make is away from a focus on our success or failure in clearing up the mess (however important that is) and instead moving towards a focus on the individual responsibility of those who choose to drop litter. It should never be someone’s job to clear up after somebody else, and it wouldn’t be if we changed attitudes to litter to prevent it in the first place.
The city-wide clean up should not be necessary and would not be happening if we all did the right thing with our litter.
That’s not to say we can’t find ways of making it easier for people. At Keep Scotland Beautiful, we’re pleased to support the city council to measure the impact of litter, and introduce innovation in bin design, making it more obvious to visitors and locals alike where they can do the right thing with their litter. Strikingly, brighter bins, linked to the council’s award-winning “Our Edinburgh” campaign have collected 50 per cent more litter than standard bins in the same area, and we should welcome further innovation like this in the city’s “binfrastructure”.
We’ve also been pleased to support this year’s Sustainable Fringe campaign, encouraging festival-goers, performers, and organisers to reduce waste and the potential for litter through simple actions like bringing their own reusable cups, using digital rather than paper flyers, and recycling costumes when the festival has finished.
But at the end of the day, more needs to be done and the answer is simple.
Locals and visitors alike need to recognise that whilst litter is a collective problem, it is the result of individual decisions and actions, and that’s what needs to change.
Derek Robertson is chief executive of the environmental charity Keep Scotland Beautiful