Litter and flytipping: scale and cost

This report updates data referenced in the previous National Litter Strategy (2014) on the scale and cost of litter and flytipping in Scotland to inform the national litter and flytipping strategy (2023).

Executive Summary

Scottish Government is devising a new National Litter and Flytipping Strategy. The current strategy, published in 2014, draws on the data included within a Zero Waste Scotland study that was published in 2013 and is now out of date. To address this, Scottish Government commissioned Eunomia Research & Consulting Ltd. (Eunomia) to undertake research, update the figures, and provide an overview of the scale and cost of litter and flytipping in Scotland. The following report provides an overview of the findings of this research.

The methodology deployed for this study included a combination of both primary and secondary research. Primary research focussed mainly on surveys supplemented by targeted interviews. Secondary research considered relevant, recent grey and published literature. Stakeholders considered within the scope of the study included Local Authorities (LAs), other public bodies with a responsibility to address litter or flytipped waste (e.g., Scottish Canals), other public bodies without that responsibility (e.g., schools), and private bodies.

Despite employing both pre-established and evolving mitigation strategies, the primary risk and setback to the project was the availability of data. Contacting the correct representative from each organisation proved difficult, and even once the correct individual was reached, it quickly became apparent that data were often limited and always inconsistently collected or reported. In addition, the complexities associated with the timing of this research (i.e., during the Covid-19 recovery period), and the challenges with accessing data that could be compared, combined, and assessed, has ultimately impacted the ability of the project team to update the figures.

Despite these challenges, a number of stakeholders were found to go above and beyond the asking to provide narrative and colour to the findings. Furthermore, thanks to the willingness of Scottish Government stakeholders to extend the research period, it was possible to create a good research base from which to draw key conclusions about the evolving nature and issue of litter and flytipping in Scotland. A breakdown of the costs incurred when addressing litter and flytipping in Scotland can be seen in Table 1‑1 below.

Table 1‑1: Summary of Costs incurred to address litter and flytipping in Scotland
Local Authority Litter Costs £48.0m
Local Authority Flytipping Costs £12.7m
Direct Costs to Other Public and Private Bodies £20.5m
Indirect Costs £196.7m
Value of Materials Lost £416k
Value of Volunteering £2.5m
TOTAL £280.8m

As can be seen, the majority of the costs are indirect (£196.7 million), meaning that they are costs incurred as a result of the presence of litter and flytipped waste rather than the costs incurred clearing up. This highlights the breadth of the impacts littering and flytipping can have on Scottish communities, individuals, and businesses.

The direct costs to Local Authorities (£48 million on litter, £12.7 million on flytipping) have not been updated due to a lack of sufficient data. Rather, they are the costs reported in the 2013 report, increased to account for inflation and population growth. If Scottish Government wishes to update these figures in the future, a recommended next step is to introduce and mandate a standardised data collection and reporting methodology. Without this, it is expected that the lack of data, as well as data inconsistencies, will continue to prevail, making further studies difficult.

Typically, materials that are littered of flytipped are treated as residual waste once collected. When properly recycled, waste materials can be sold to secondary markets, thus bringing value to the economy. The value of materials lost was calculated using estimates for the tonnages of different materials commonly littered/flytipped and appropriate market values. Overall, the value of material lost in Scotland was found to be £416,320 per annum. It is expected that this loss will increase as greater importance is placed on recyclate to enable circular economy/resource efficiency.

Alongside building a picture of the scale and cost of litter and flytipping in Scotland, this report also explored the value of volunteering to clean up litter. A figure of £2.5 million was calculated, although it is expected that this figure is conservative, and the actual value is considerably higher. As previously noted, the representatives consulted to understand the extent of volunteering to address instances of littered and flytipped waste were knowledgeable and helpful and deserve praise and thanks for their contributions to this report and to the wider clean-up efforts. It was apparent that there are many individuals and communities who consistently dedicate time to addressing these issues, and that pride of place is important to many. The value of volunteering calculated includes data obtained via Keep Scotland Beautiful as well as community groups (self-organised and coordinated through LAs).

In addition to the costs of litter and flytipping, the study also considered the most commonly littered and flytipped items. Whilst quantitative data pertaining to exact tonnage were not available, it was possible to identify a hierarchy of the most commonly littered and flytipped items. These hierarchies are shown in

Figure 1‑1. Commonly Flytipped Items

  • Bulky Household Waste / White Goods
  • Black Bags of Mixed Waste
  • Construction & Demolition Waste
  • Electrical Waste
  • Tyres
  • Hazardous Waste
  • Supermarket Trolleys
  • Green Waste
  • End of Life Vehicles/Parts

Figure 1‑2. Commonly Littered Items

  • Food containers, wrappers and packaging
  • Drinks bottles and cans
  • Smoking-related litter
  • Dog fouling
  • Cardboard boxes
  • Food waste
  • Plastic bags
  • Chewing gum

Whilst all data (and the study itself) referenced the 2019/20 financial year, the potential impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic were also considered. It would appear that the pandemic increased the amount of litter and flytipping, although evidence is sparse and inconsistent. Anecdotally, the waste streams saw a shift, with personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, gloves, and wipes quickly appearing to be the most commonly littered items. Issues may have been further exacerbated by the closure of household waste and recycling centres (HWRCs) due to stay-at-home orders and staff shortages due to widespread sickness and/or isolation.

Overall, the research concluded that the cost of litter and flytipping in Scotland was £280.8 million. Whilst not possible to directly compare this to the previous report (due to the increase in scope for this report, and the data difficulties faced), it is clear that the breadth and depth of the impact is vast.



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