Resource Use

Study finds that people litter more than they admit

A report published by Zero Waste Scotland (ZWS) yesterday (13 April) confirmed that while littering is still regarded as a social taboo, many people litter more than they like to admit, and will justify it, if, for example, there aren't 'enough' bins, or if the faux pas is 'accidental'.

The study, ‘Public Perceptions and Concerns Around Litter’, collated responses to questions posed to 120 people in Scotland regarding their opinions on litter, and how it is tackled in their communities.

The research was commissioned by ZWS to help it develop preventative littering strategies, in the aim of reducing the amount of money spent on clearing waste and litter across the country. According to ZWS, litter and fly-tipping is costing £53 million each year due to 'clean-up', 'education' and 'prevention' measures.


The key findings of the report included:

  • most people consider 'deliberate' littering worse than 'accidental' littering – which was excused by reasons such as, a perceived lack of, or full, bins, or only dropping a 'small amount' of rubbish;
  • litter linked to other anti-social behaviour (such as flytipping, or late-night eating and drinking) is heavily criticised;
  • people find hazardous and large items to be the most concerning when littered, while smaller amounts of litter, such as waste paper and chewing gum is largely tolerated, and biodegradable litter (such as fruit debis) is not perceived as being ‘litter’;
  • there is an expectation for residential areas to be clean, but that, in turn, there would be more litter in city centres (due to fast-food outlets); and
  • litter left at 'leisure areas', for example at parks and beaches, 'annoyed' those surveyed and spoilt their 'enjoyment' of these 'areas'.

'There can be no excuse for littering’

Despite the general public’s apparent tolerance to ‘accidental’ littering, Scotland’s Environment Secretary Richard Lochead, said that there can be ”no excuse for littering”, as it is a “blight on our communities and costs Scotland's public purse millions each year to clean up – money that could be better spent on other things”.

He added: “The Scottish Government is already taking action to reduce littering, and this research will help inform efforts to put an end to what is unacceptable behaviour.”

ZWS Chief Executive Iain Gulland, added: “This is a fascinating report which reveals what people really think about litter – including some attitudes which they might not always admit to others! This report shows people expect litter to be cleaned up – but it would be much better, socially and economically, if it wasn't dropped in the first place.

“In our view, litter is waste in the wrong place – littered items such as plastic bottles and aluminium cans could be worth £1.2 million when recycled.

“We are working to shift the emphasis of anti-litter initiatives from cleaning up what's dropped or discarded in our public areas, to preventing people from dropping litter in the first place, and this means changing behaviour. So the attitudes revealed in the survey provide a very useful basis for understanding people's behaviour and shaping how we communicate with people and communities in future anti-litter initiatives.”

Read the ‘Public Perceptions and Concerns Around Litter’ report or find out more about the work of Zero Waste Scotland on litter.

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