People are prepared to justify leaving litter in Scotland, as long as it is not on their own doorstep, according to a major new study.

The research into social attitudes towards the problem found residents expect to see rubbish left near their homes cleaned up quickly but will excuse themselves for dropping trash if it was not deliberate or if nearby bins are full.

It also found that most people have conflicting views on litter and how it should be tackled.

Researchers from Zero Waste Scotland found that littering remains a social taboo, but reveals that many people see littering behaviour on a sliding scale of acceptability, and are prepared to justify it in certain circumstances.

While most said they would be upset by rubbish left in their street, nearly 60 per cent also admitted to dropping small bits of litter, even though they told themselves they would not litter again.

Chief among people's concerns was finding drug-related trash such as needles, along with dog fouling and fly tipping. They expected residential areas to be clean, and expected more litter in city centres due to fast food and eating on-the-go outlets and grass verges.

The direct cost of discarded rubbish and flytipping is estimated to be £53 million a year, with the majority spent on clean-up, education and prevention measures.

The study of people's perceptions of litter, carried out by Zero Waste Scotland will be used to develop ways prevent littering behaviour, instead of continually spending time and money cleaning it up.

Iain Gulland, chief executive, said: "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.

"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."

Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead added: "There can be no excuse for littering, which 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.

"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."