Litter and fly-tipping has seen a huge increase across Scotland during lockdown – at a time when we need our outdoor spaces more than ever before.
But dog-owners across the country have been joining a litter-picking campaign in droves, and pledging to clean up their communities with the help of their pup companions.
Marion Montgomery, who founded the Paws on Plastic campaign in November 2018, began by rounding up volunteers in Stonehaven but quickly saw the group grow to its current numbers of almost 20,000 members from 80 countries around the world.
Marion Montgomery, founder of Paws on Plastic
Marion, who was awarded the Clean Up Scotland hero award in 2019, said that the amount of litter in public spaces has undoubtedly been on the rise since the beginning of the pandemic, with disposable masks and gloves an issue of particular concern.
She said: “All our members have seen a huge increase in litter in beauty spots, I think due to so many more people holidaying at home without thinking of the effect their actions have on the areas they are visiting.
“While this was undoubtedly extremely frustrating and sad to see, I think one very positive effect has been that it opened the general public’s eyes to the issue of litter. For many years, there has been a general “litter blindness” .
“The huge increase has become an issue, something that has been drawn to peoples’ attention and thankfully increasing numbers are now keen to get involved and do their bit to protect our beautiful countryside & wildlife.
Chilli the Saluki helping his owner to collect rubbish at Westfield Park in Bridge of Don
“As awareness has risen, our numbers have soared! With another ‘lockdown effect’ being the increase in dog ownership, this is also an advantage to our campaign.
Driven by the knowledge that plastics and metals do not naturally decompose and can persist in the natural environment for decades, animals can suffocate in discarded plastic bags, get entangled in plastic can holders, and be injured by broken glass or get trapped in jars, Marion is encouraging everyone to take a small piece of positive action.
The aim is simple: Make picking up a couple of pieces of litter just a normal part of an everyday dog walk.
Marion, 55, added: “The idea is that if we all do a little, collectively it all adds up to a huge amount and the effect is huge.
“Even with each person picking up two pieces on two daily walks, that’s almost 1,500 per person in a year. Times that by 20,000 and it’s over 29 million – for no real effort.
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“With about 1 million dogs in Scotland, 9 million across the UK, (more now since lockdown!), the potential is huge.
“Studies also show that people drop less litter in clean areas so removing litter has the double effect of preventing litter being dropped – you’ve effectively removed the excuse that ‘everyone does it’. I’ve definitely seen this here in Stonehaven.”
Keep Scotland Beautiful’s recent report highlighted an accelerating decline in the condition of Scotland’s neighbourhoods that has been going on since 2013.
Barry Fisher, CEO of Keep Scotland Beautiful said: “At a time when we need our outside spaces more than ever before Scotland is facing the prospect of a litter emergency. Our polling shows that during the first lockdown, 29% of people thought that the amount of litter blighting our beautiful country got worse.
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“Without the ongoing support of community groups and individuals who are committed to cleaning up Scotland, one litter item at a time, the problem could be far worse.
“We are extremely grateful to Marion, who established Paws on Plastic to encourage other dog owners to pick up litter while out walking their pets. She has inspired thousands of people to do just this – removing millions of items of litter from local neighbourhoods and ensuring they are binned or recycled it where possible.
“Our call out is simple – to those who are proud of the country we live in and are frustrated – join us to help combat the problem. Together we can make a difference.”
That’s also why Keep Scotland Beautiful, Zero Waste Scotland and Marine Conservation Society recently joined forces to raise awareness of the issue and promote the benefits of reusable face coverings, with the aim of reducing the impact of this latest pollutant to our streets, coast, countryside and waterways.
The partnership comes after Marine Conservation Society published the results of its Great British Beach Clean and revealed Covid-related litter, such as face coverings or gloves, was found on almost a quarter (23.5%) of Scotland’s beaches.
Emma Leel, programme manager for litter and flytipping at Zero Waste Scotland said: “Sadly, many Scots have witnessed single-use face coverings littered on streets, beaches and parks.
“As part of our Scotland is Stunning campaign, we’re encouraging people getting out and about to enjoy the great outdoors without leaving litter, reminding them they should either bin litter or take it home. Not only does litter represent a waste of resources, it also damages the environment we all enjoy.
For more information on how to get involved, visit www.keepscotlandbeautiful.org/cleanupscotland or the Paws on Plastic facebook page.