Litter has always been a high-profile issue in Edinburgh. I well remember grappling with the issue when I was council leader. It is still hotly debated on the pages of this very paper. Thankfully the “bins crisis” has eased, and surveys show that about 90 per cent of the city’s streets are kept clean. But there are still some real problems and that’s hardly surprising.
The council has taken large chunks out of the cleansing budget to meet cuts imposed in the aftermath of the recession. Add to that the complexities of cleaning a city in which there has been an increase in both residents and tourists, and the issue remains a pressing concern. So, can we be hopeful and how do we ensure that Edinburgh gets and remains even cleaner?
I remember one resident who railed against the council at every turn when I was leader. When I tried to point out that the council doesn’t drop any litter I was met with a tirade of abuse and accusations. And this after a period in which the city’s cleanliness improved by the largest margin ever recorded. I did notice that he continued to complain long after I left the council.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for calling it as it is, but if we want to make Edinburgh cleaner we have to change people’s behaviour. More people must stop dropping litter, and they have to clear up after their dogs. Thankfully most do.
These days I help the Friends of Burdiehouse Burn Valley Park in the south of the city. Our group helps look after one of the city’s finest green spaces. As a fully paid up member of the “glass half full” club I’m always optimistic. I think there are good reasons for being so.
Firstly, the council is getting better. Burdiehouse Burn Valley Park had great help over the last year to run a localised campaign on litter. It wasn’t perfect, but there was some great publicity and some of the new posters used were excellent.
One poster acknowledged that dog fouling was an issue in the area and encouraged people to report anyone who didn’t clear up after their dog. It was a great reminder to people that they shouldn’t do it, but also pointed out that they might be reported. Around the signs we noticed a big drop in problems.
Also, we’ve had help from Edinburgh and Lothians Greenspace Trust. In an initiative to promote physical activity funded by the council and the NHS there have been lots more clean ups organised in and around the park. These, along with our own Big Spring Clean have become so successful that we are trying to liaise with organisations like Liberton and District community council to coordinate them all next year.
At Burdiehouse we had a record turnout for our clean-ups this year and the park has stayed cleaner ever since. Similar activities have been growing in the city too with clean-ups being organised regularly in north Edinburgh by the wonderful Leithers Don’t Litter, which has run amazing campaigns.
Wouldn’t it be great to have a coordinated Big Spring Clean across Edinburgh? The council did actually organise something similar way back in 2012. This coincided with making the city look good just ahead of the council elections, but I still thought it was a great initiative. Sadly, it was dropped the following year.
We need to stop litter at source. Mobilising residents to be more involved encourages people to be active and they can get healthy at the same time as doing good.
People need to understand that like drink driving this is something which is seriously anti-social. Let’s stop the litter bugs that still blight Edinburgh and make sure that one of the most beautiful cities in the world is also one of the cleanest.
Donald Anderson is director of Playfair Scotland and a former leader of Edinburgh City Council.