It is, at last count, Scotland’s cleanest council.

But Orkney is still having to spend a penny - or rather more - on a very particular problem.

The islands’ local authority, rather coyly, has said it is looking at “options for tourism infrastructure”. It means toilets for the thousands of cruise ship passengers who now visit over a summer.

Councillors will consider a report next month.

The Herald this weekend revealed that Orkney had passed inspections by independent watchdogs with flying colours.

Keep Scotland Beautiful (KSB) - in its gold-standard annual environmental survey - said every one of the sites checked on the islands was “acceptable” for litter.

The council area, therefore, got an unbeatable cleanliness score of 100% for 2022-23. That does not mean it had absolutely no littering, flytipping, dog-fouling or graffiti vandalism.  And it certainly does not suggest that Orkney is free of toilet debris.

However, the data shows that rubbish was not accumulated when inspectors turned up, which is why the local authority got a clean bill of health.

Orkney’s perfect record compares with a national average of 90.6%. This marked a rare slight improvement across Scotland for the first time in years - partly as systems and even habits recovered from the pandemic.

Generally speaking, scores in the Highlands and Islands and other rural areas were better than those in poorer or busier places.

The Herald: Kirkwall, Orkney.Kirkwall Harbour 

In fact, every single largely rural local authority area in Scotland, bar one, was able to match or beat the national average.

The Western Isles, Eilean Siar, scored 90.5%.  Argyll and Bute, which contains some sizeable towns like Helensburgh, Dunoon and Oban, got 90.6%.

Highland scores 96.1%, Shetland 96.6%, Aberdeenshire 95.3%, Dumfries and Galloway 93.7% and Scottish Borders 94.4%. Moray does not take part in the KSB audits.

READ MORE: Revealed: Scotland's dirtiest towns and cities

Orkney’s scores are usually better than those in poorer parts of the countries big cities with large footfalls. But the islands are now starting to share sone of the same challenges facing big urban visitor draws like Glasgow or Edinburgh.

Thanks to cruise ships. These giants were expected to deliver a million people to Scottish ports this year, including relatively small ones like Kirkwall, Orkney’s capital.

The town is one of the biggest destinations in northern Europe. In 2022 - the summer season covered by litter and mess statistics - nearly 200 vessels stopped in the islands. 

The biggest cruise ship ever to anchor off Kirkwall had nearly 5000 passengers - boosting the town’s population by almost 50% in a single go.

Local authorities have to brace themselves for every arrival. 

The Herald: Ness of Brodgar, Orkney 

"We are justifiably proud of our track record around clean and tidy streets, with this down to the general diligence and ‘place pride’ of local people and visitors and the hard work of our staff, who are out in all weathers carrying out key tasks like emptying bins and street sweeping,” a spokeswoman for Orkney Islands Council said.

“One key development over the last decade has been the increase in cruise tourism.  Our Neighbourhood Services team work closely with those in the cruise management team to plan for particularly busy days – ensuring that key elements like the streets, public toilets and bins are kept ship-shape for locals and visitors alike - and we continue to make improvements where resources allow.

“The availability of toilet facilities at key tourism sites  and other locations in Orkney remains an issue and it is something we are actively looking at alongside colleagues at Historic Environment Scotland and VisitScotland, and local community representatives.”

“A report is due to go to committee in November that intends to explore options around investment in tourism and related  infrastructure.”

It is six years since proposals for a £3-a-visit tourist tax was mooted in Orkney. That sparked widespread opposition. The Scottish Government has just finished consulting on its own bill for visitor levies. As Herald on Sunday reported yesterday, Edinburgh Council, facing its own street rubbish problems, would like to spend money raised from such a tax on new toilets or litter bins.

READ MORE: Is it fair to rank Scotland's dirtiest towns and cities?

However, the levy as planned would only apply to people who stayed in accommodation - not cruise ship passengers or motorhomers. KSB only inspects public rather than private sites. But toilet-related debris and litter - as well as other rubbish - ends up on private land too. Across the Highlands and Islands there are concerns over camper vans emptying their  chemical toilets on fields or in ditches. This summer in Orkney a farmer told motorhomers they could not park for night on a single track road. They reportedly drove off leaving their waste water tank open, and a train of human mess in their wake.

Cruise ships make the headlines when their passengers disembark in smaller communities. But they also arrive in big urban areas too. Scotland’s dirtiest council, Inverclyde, is also home to a hugely busy cruise port.

There is a strong correlation between deprivation and litter - and the Clydeside council has some of the highest concentrations of poverty in Scotland.

But mess is also strongly linked to footfall. As KSB told The Herald: “One in six sites in high footfall hub areas (town/city centres, transport routes, high schools) and high-density residential areas recording significant levels of litter. This drops to one in seventeen in low density residential areas.”

The Herald: Not a problem you'll see on Orkney 

The data from KSB helps local authorities know where they need to have more street-sweeping and cleansing teams - on top of their own local knowledge.

But councils also have to figure out when to do their cleaning. The areas around schools obviously need less attention at weekends or during holidays. More street cleaners are needed when a big boat carrying 5000 people docks in your town.

READ MORE: How Edinburgh cleaned up its act

Inverclyde council got a cleanliness score of 83.9%, meaning more than 16% of its public spaces were unacceptably littered. KSB and other experts stress that it is not entirely fair to compare the post-industrial area to an archipelago off the north coast of Scotland. But they two places are facing some of the same challenges, not least a rise in untaxed tourism.

Inverclyde blamed its low score on budget cuts. But a spokesman also urged residents to use bins and recycling centres - and warned litterbugs could face £80 fines - though only three were issued last year.