At last, the season of renewal and birth is upon us, and with it the power of nature to
re-energise the mind, body and spirit. And as I get older and more appreciative of my environment I often stop in my tracks to admire the spring blossom on a tree or listen to the sound of morning birdsong.

But then it happens. My dream-like state is shattered by the sight of a rusty old Coca-Cola can floating in the duck pond or a Covid face mask discarded on the banks of the river.

It’s not merely annoying, seeing the coots and their tiny chicks negotiating their way round an abandoned Buckfast bottle leaves me feeling anxious and depressed.

So I ask myself, “why do people litter?” It simply doesn’t make sense to ruin the place you live in. A quick trawl through the internet shows I’m not the only one left perplexed and angered by rubbish, with countless academic papers written to explain one of modern life’s egregious phenomena.

Of course, it’s impossible to get inside the head of a person who chooses to toss their chocolate bar wrapper on the pavement, but there appears to be many broad, and surprisingly complex, reasons for littering ranging from cultural, generational and structural.

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Research carried out for Zero Waste Scotland, as revealed in the Huffington Post last week, found everyone litters at some point. Faced by full or no bins and desperate to get rid of rubbish quickly, "the ick factor" makes us persuade ourselves the sticky ice lolly wrapper will be fine decomposing in the bushes.

This may sound fairly low-level stuff, but ultimately it’s the accumulation of “icky” incidents over many years that have helped lead us to where we are now.

This raises the question of convenience. According to Dr Elaine Massung from Off The Ground, the act of finding a bin or carrying rubbish home takes far more time and effort than littering. When speaking with a teenager at a clean up, she asked why people his age littered, he said: “They want to get on with their lives as quickly as possible.”

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Also the Zero Waste Scotland study found the decision to litter is influenced by our setting and who we might be with. People tend to be less inclined to transgress in places they feel connected to or regard as respectable, while the report adds: “The presence of peers seems to drive littering behaviour among the young, but correct disposal among older age groups.”

Just as the causes of littering are complicated, so are the solutions. Let’s face it, in a throwaway society people are going to throw things away. So the creation of fewer disposable goods would be a good start. Tackle the problem at source rather than fining perpetrators, which is impossible to police anyway. And it’s almost too obvious to state, but more bins would help.

However, to really tackle the underlying cause, cultural norms have to change and that has to begin with education. Just as drink driving or smoking are now frowned upon, littering needs to gain similar social pariah status. Only then can we hope to end the blight of litter and make modern life a little less rubbish.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.