Scotland’s dirtiest council areas can today be revealed with poverty-stricken Inverclyde found to be suffering from the most litter and fly-tipping.

Independent watchdogs have long linked messy streets with deprivation. 

Now a gold-standard annual survey reveals the local authority with the highest concentrations of disadvantage also has the most littered public spaces.

Keep Scotland Beautiful (KSB) has discovered that nearly one in six sites they inspected in Inverclyde -  which includes the towns of Greenock and Port Glasgow - was “unacceptably” dirty.

An analysis for The Herald of KSB raw data shows that Glasgow - the council with the second highest proportion of deprived neighbourhoods - is runner-up in an unofficial league table of litter.

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Edinburgh, last year’s dirtiest local authority and a city with huge visitor numbers, has improved. Orkney is now the cleanest place in the country. 

KSB does not seek to name and shame local authorities which struggle with rubbish on their streets, saying the entire country is facing a “litter emergency”.

Communities with the most poverty, the densest populations and the highest footfall, its data shows, have the biggest problems. But litter is everywhere: at least some was catalogued at three out of four of the 13,ooo spots the charity inspected.

For decades KSB has been carrying out its gold-standard comprehensive monitoring, called Local Environmental Audit and Management Systems or LEAMS, on behalf of councils 

The Herald:

Last month The Herald revealed a first slight improvement in national cleanliness since the pandemic devastated cleansing services and disrupting living and working habits, including what we throw away - and where and when we do so.

But Scotland remains far more littered than it was a decade and a half ago - and also before Covid struck in early 2020.

Inspectors count rubbish, everything from cigarette butts, crisp packets and tin cans to fly-tipped mattresses and fridges.

In 2022-23 the charity said that 9.4% of sites it looked were unacceptably littered - which means that rubbish was accumulating. That was down from a record high of 10.3% a year earlier but up from 7.7% in 2019-20 and just 3.7% in 2013-14.

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This year in Inverclyde 16.1% of spots inspected were unacceptable - far higher than the national average. This local number has been rising in recent years. 

Asked why, the local authority blamed budget cuts. 

“Like all councils, we have had to make difficult savings decisions to help balance the budget and one of those decisions was to remove 10 full-time equivalent (FTE) members of staff from our grounds service, which deals with street cleaning,” a spokesman said.

“That being said, staff work incredibly hard day, in day out to keep streets clean and tidy, especially our town and village centres, and we provide support to various community groups who regularly carry out litter picks in their area.”

“We have also introduced new equipment to deal with weeds and detritus on our pavements and we have invested in bird/animal proof litter bins which are being rolled out throughout the area to stop the litter being blown out and polluting our rivers.”

KSB, councils and the Scottish Government have been eager to support community litter-picking groups - not least given rising awareness of the damage plastic and other waste does to the environment if it finds itself in rivers or the sea.

Environmental experts stress that litter is caused by people - and not local authority cleansing departments. The more people there are in an area - or the more poorer it is - the more rubbish will be in its public spaces.

Barry Fisher, KSB’s chief executive, explained: “There is a litter emergency in Scotland. And our charity’s evidence shows that litter levels are worse in high density urban areas where lots of people live, work and visit.

“We can see that litter levels correlate with our own actions - our unsustainable consumption of stuff, our patterns of behaviour where we live, shop and visit, and the choices we make when we dispose of items.”

He stressed the KSB survey was intended to support councils, to identify where problems are worst.

“Our team carries out on the ground surveys across the country – the data collected is used by local authorities to inform and target their activities, have constructive conversations and to share good practice,” he said. 

But Mr Fisher also recognised the financial pressures councils are under. 

“Local authorities can and should do more to tackle litter and waste, but there has been a decline in public resources available across the board,” he said. 

“We can blame the local authorities, or we can help.  And I think we all, producers, businesses and individuals included, have a responsibility to act and not to make the situation worse.”

KSB has backed up its ground surveys with polling show that Scots are increasingly worried about litter - and that these concerns are disproportionately high in poor areas. 

“We now also have three consecutive years of data highlighting that the majority of people in Scotland believe that litter is a problem in their area (70%) and across Scotland as a whole (90%), “ Mr Fisher said.

“This situation is not acceptable, which is why we are committed to playing our part in supporting Scotland’s Litter and Flytipping Strategy and the Action Plan for 2023/24 – including leading on engaging and empowering communities through the creation of an online litter hub and a new litter education programme.

“The climate, nature and litter emergencies are all interlinked; with unsustainable consumption at the heart of all three. 

“We urge everyone to play their part and support our efforts to keep Scotland beautiful.”

The series continues tomorrow (Sunday October 8) and Monday (October 9) at