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Councils are right to target selfish litter louts

It is lazy, ignorant behaviour.

Dropping litter is an act of almost perfect selfishness. People who litter look on their cigarette butt, crisp bag or can as an inconvenience, so rather than wait three minutes until they pass a litter bin, or pop the item in their pocket to dispose of later, they simply drop it in the street for someone else to pick up.

The sound of empty cans rattling down the road, the sight of plastic bags stuck in trees and the impact of litter on pets and wildlife make it a serious but 100% avoidable blight imposed on the majority by the self-centred few.

Glasgow City Council spends £17 million of council tax payers' money every year picking up litter and removing graffiti, so good for the council that it has clawed back at least some of it, if only a small proportion, by fining people caught dropping litter.

Freedom of Information figures on Fixed Penalty Notices (FPN) issued for littering show Glasgow is taking it very seriously, handing out 18,000 fines worth a total of £350,000, which comes to more than 70% of the total sum of litter fines issued across Scotland. The vast majority of them have been for discarded cigarette ends.

There will be those who object. They will cite cases where the city's Community Enforcement Officers have seemingly stood in wait for a smoker to finish his or her cigarette to see if they drop it or not. The implication is that doing this is somehow underhand and unfair, that smokers are an easy target when there could be someone down the street hurling around fast food wrappers.

It is hard to have a lot of sympathy for that argument, since cigarette butts are a particularly prevalent form of litter and given that the wardens are in any case highly visible in their uniforms. Like speed cameras, they can be spotted some way off, giving the smoker a chance to do the right thing. If the individual is still cavalier enough to flick their cigarette end onto the ground, and is caught doing it, the fault is all theirs.

For years efforts were made to tackle this issue through education and entreaty but it did not work. That is why these fines are needed. The fact the Glasgow wardens have exceeded their targets in the number of FPNs issued would tend to suggest that even with the existing regime of fines some people are determined to persist in this antisocial behaviour.

Scottish Government officials have signalled their intention to raise the minimum fine for littering from £50 to £80 next year, at the same time putting greater emphasis on recycling street waste. The latter is a no-brainer: it is irritating to the majority of dutiful recyclers to find they cannot find anywhere to put their paper cup or old newspaper except in a general waste bin when it could be recycled. Raising fines will be more contentious but there is a case for it, to send a clear message to would-be litter louts that their behaviour will not be tolerated.

People who persist in littering have proved themselves to lack a sense of responsibility for the environment they share with others; no wonder public education messages make so little impact on them. Hit them in the pockets, though, and they might think twice next time.

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