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Jun 12, 2023

How the throwaway society is blighting the loveliest parts of the country, and what the Scottish Government could do about it

I’m going to admit my guilty secret right away – I ride a motor cycle. I ride it hard and fast. I live in a part of the world where the roads are made for it. The iconic North Coast 500 snakes through my town, Tain.

So, life should be an Easy Rider dream – wind blowing through my thinning locks and the two-lane blacktop flowing away in front of me through wild and verdant country that people come from all round the world to see. 

Right? Well, no. Unfortunately, quite wrong.

Every trip in these dispiriting times is marred by disgusting trails of litter along the sides of the road – trails which grow into heaps at junctions or roundabouts and scar the very countryside for which Scotland is justly famous.

Through my helmet – when it’s not obscured by a flying poly bag or McDonalds wrapper – the thing that leaps out at me is the number of Red Bull cans that I see. This is a puzzle. Is it just that I recognise the branding? Or are energy drinks fans more likely to be tossers (of litter, I hasten to add).

And talking of McDonalds, what possesses the people who scoff their Happy Meals in their cars, neatly collect all the debris in the carry-out bag and then drive to a beauty spot to fling it out of the window? Are they the same people who put their dog poop in a plastic bag and leave it alongside a country trail? Ha, I suspect so.

But I’m not alone in being really fed up with the tsunami of litter which is blighting what used to be a green and pleasant land. John Read, founder of Clean Up Britain, said recently: “I drive up and down the UK and there is litter everywhere.

“When it comes to litter and fly-tipping, it is anarchy. There is no law enforcement. Penalties are ridiculously low. We are heading towards being a third world country. We need to see fines increase to £1,000, rather than the current £65 to £100.”

Keep Britain Tidy estimates that around two million pieces of litter are dropped every day in the UK, racking up an annual bill of in the region of £1 billion for street cleaning alone.

However, while it is all very well mumping – along with everyone else – about the minority (and you have to hope it is a minority) who disfigure our countryside, the more pertinent question is: what can be done about it?

Well, other countries have some novel solutions. Have you ever got into a lift – say, in a car park – and thought it was a bit whiffy? Singapore has pioneered urine detection systems which automatically lock offenders in and call the police. That’s what I call a Gotcha moment.

That island nation’s litter laws are strictly enforced by plain-clothes officers and surveillance technology, and offenders are faced with punishments including fines and community cleaning.

In Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, refuse and recycling trucks pass through the city almost every night for waste disposal, households take responsibility for their waste as a matter of habit and littering is unthinkable.

In many American states, convicts, in shaming orange jumpsuits, are set to the task of picking up litter from the sides of roads – eliminating the threat to road workers’ lives, about which our own electronic signage constantly reminds us.

Look, I know. The Scottish Government has its hands full at the moment, but even the current crop of Ministers must occasionally lift their eyes from their Twitter accounts, look out of the windows of their limos and think: “God, this is shabby.”

And, if they do, then perhaps instead of ploughing on with doomed projects like the Deposit Return Scheme, which just loads costs onto producers, they could enforce current legislation, introduce prohibitive fines and use technology to catch culprits at known littering or fly-tipping hotspots.

Where I am, the success of the NC500 is already under threat from the lack of infrastructure, the cost of fuel and inflation, and it seems self-immolating to add more negatives by allowing the country to be turned into a dump.

And if it’s that bad up here, I shudder to think what it’s like in the rest of the country.

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