THERE is a thing old journalists do. Wherever we go, whatever we are doing, we pick up a local paper. Why? Because they are full of ideas, not just for stories or features or trends but for design and photography too.

One of the little thrills of working in a newsroom was the resounding thwump you would hear when a colleague returning from a trip dumped a pile of foreign blatts or provincial English weeklies on his or her desk.

Nowadays, it is so much easier to keep up with the local news in faraway places. I have an app on my phone that lets me scroll through the newsprint pages of thousands of publications, big and small, from around the world. It is addictive. For me, anyway.

In this last year and a half there are been something mesmerising about watching how different communities deal with the fall-out of a global pandemic.

But one kind of story keeps coming up: moans about litter and bin collections. This is a hardy perennial of local journalism. But problems with rubbish – which in some places were pretty serious before the bug – have got worse around the world, not least here in Scotland.

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There are people who have got it in to their head that this is purely a local issue, even a Glasgow one. It is not. Indeed, I'd say it is not our waste problems that are unusual; it is our tribalistic politics.

Transnational organisations have been reporting on trends for, well, Eurotrash since last year. They are citing more flytipping and challenging changes in what people are throwing away – and where. And we are not just talking about all those disposable masks, though their littering is an environmental catastrophe in its own right.

Of course, all these problems with rubbish are cropping up just when local government and commercial cleansing organisations are suffering from the same effects of lockdown, illness, social distancing and the pingdemic as everyone else.

Few people outside the world of waste management will be reading detailed EU-wide reports.

That is where local news comes in. Can I take you on a quick jaunt around some of the regional papers and news sites of Europe?

Let’s start with Sicily. Quotidiano di Sicilia, a daily based in Catania, on Wednesday declared that the entire province of Siracusa was facing a rubbish emergency. Collections of recyclable plastic and metal have been halted altogether, it reported with pictures of long rows of uncollected plastic rubbish bags on residential streets.

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Local website Siracusa News published a video of a suburb of the city where an entire lane of traffic on a roundabout was filled with a long row of unsorted rubbish. “This is a health emergency,” it said, citing a rise in sightings of mice. The area, made of 1970s mini-blocks, was also filled with ad-hoc mini-dumps of flytipped waste.

Now, there are specific problems in Sicily, limits on capacity at landfills. Gazzetta del Sud, another local paper, published a picture of bin lorries unable to get in to a coup. In fact, national TV news TG24 has this week also reported that dumps could be full in southern Italy in three years. The north of the country is not that far behind.

But the pandemic has put extra pressure on a system already on the edge.

Not collecting recycling was a common decision made during the pandemic. But it had consequences: it meant more rubbish in landfills that might not have space, as in Sicily. Or extra costs for landfilling, as in Scotland.

Rome is also officially in a rubbish emergency. Italy’s capital has famously long had a problem with trash. This has got much worse over the last year, with serious littering and street bins invisible under industrial-scale piles of blue bags. A social media campaign – Reprendiamoci Roma – has catalogued horrendous scenes.

Rome has even had to ask rival Naples – home to the “land of fire” illegal rubbish-burning sites and one of Europe’s worst litter hotspots – to take 150 tonnes of trash a day off its hands for disposal.

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But reports on Wednesday from Rome underlined just how serious flytipping has become. La Repubblica, the national paper based in the city, said 14 members of an organised crime gang were under investigation for dumping cookers, fridges and other stripped-down electric appliances on suburban roadsides. Sound familiar? Scottish authorities have blamed criminal gangs for waste dumped illegally under the M8 and elsewhere.

Criminals have long muscled in on the waste industry – in some countries more than in others. But the hard times of Covid – and difficulties accessing legitimate recycling or dumping areas – have made this problem worse too.

Things have not been easy in France either. Marseille, Glasgow’s twin, this winter suffered a Covid bin strike with black bags heaped on street corners. In Paris, the biggest canal basin, filled with floating plastic and other trash, including facemasks. Le Parisien said the scenes were “post-apocalyptic”.

France also demonstrated one of the Covid-era litter issues. Rubbish was not where you might expect it to be. As shops and restaurants closed, there was less trash in retail and tourist drags. But more rubbish in parks.

France Blue, for example, reported a crisis of litter from thousands of impromptu picnics as people ate out in parks and riversides. Furious Parisians used the SaccageParis hashtag to highlight vandals wrecking their city with leftovers and litter.

The story was much the same in Spain, where local authorities tired of clearing up after botellones, street drinking parties long a favourite of the nation’s youth but far more popular when bars were shut.

In Russia last winter the great city of Novosibirsk saw de-facto dumps emerge in streets and horror stories of litter swept in to the air by wind. “The rubbish is flying”, was one headline.

In Ireland there were demands for “personal responsibility” as litter built up in Dublin.

There is too little space to go through all the rubbish stories of Europe. They are endless. There is an old reporter saying, all news, it goes, is local. And that is true. But sometimes if you want to understand your patch, you have to look at others too.

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