One year on from the introduction of the 5p charge on single-use carrier bags, there can be little doubt that this simple measure has had a significant effect on our everyday behaviour. With shops reporting an up to 80 per cent reduction in bag usage, we should welcome that success as each individual decision to reuse a bag means we are all living a little bit more sustainably.
However, whilst the reduction is to be welcomed, our research tells us that this has yet to lead to fewer bags littering our environment. There are still too many on our streets, on pavements and verges. For us all, and particularly at Keep Scotland Beautiful, litter and littering remains a significant concern. As the Scottish Government indicated, when launching its National Litter Strategy in 2014, as a country, we have much to do if we are to eradicate littering behaviour. Therefore, simply reducing the prevalence of single-use carrier bags is unlikely, in and of itself, to create the litter free Scotland we all want to see.
To reinforce that point, our recent polling has found that food and drink packaging, cigarette butts and chewing gum remain at the core of our national litter problem. To tackle the wider problem, we need a widespread cultural shift in our attitude to litter, and we need to change behaviour if we are to see our communities freed from litter’s dramatic social and economic impacts.
The 5p charge has had other benefits, too. It has provided groups and organisations all over the country with much-needed financial support, as retailers have distributed those funds to environmental good causes. In these challenging financial times, this income stream has been a welcome boost for many charities.
At Keep Scotland Beautiful, we’ve been fortunate to receive bag charge funds from large and small businesses.
With that resource, we’ve supported a huge number of environmental initiatives involving thousands of people across Scotland, and where possible, our aim has been to ensure that some of these initiatives are tackling the lingering litter problem.
The battle against litter will be a long one, one requiring action from government and individuals, as well as local authorities and corporations
In winning that battle, reduced use of disposable bags is a good start but far from the end of the actions required to beat litter and reduce its impact on the wider environment.
Derek Robertson is chief executive of environment charity Keep Scotland Beautiful