Plastic bottles most littered item by Scotland’s rivers and waterways

Plastic bottles, snack packets and drinks cans were among the most littered items along Scotland's rivers, study shows.

Plastic bottles most littered item by rivers and waterways, Keep Scotland Beautiful survey finds

Plastic bottles are the most littered item by Scotland’s rivers and waterways according to new research.

The first national volunteer survey of litter found by Scottish rivers and waterways has revealed that plastic bottles were the most littered item, followed by plastic pieces, plastic snack packets, drinks cans and polystyrene pieces.

Environmental charity Keep Scotland Beautiful’s Upstream Battle campaign focuses on raising awareness, gathering evidence and encouraging action to change littering behaviour to prevent marine litter at source along rivers in Scotland.

The recently published Upstream Battle Citizen Science Report – a snapshot of data gathered by volunteers across a three-month period between December 2023 and February 2024 – consists of 185 surveys conducted along 26 rivers and waterways in 20 local authority areas across Scotland.

In total 20,383 items were counted during the survey period, with the majority of litter found to be items which would be addressed under a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) or effective Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) regulations.

Litter picking during beach clean up Email

The rest of the top ten items littered include cigarettes, glass fragments, dog poo, plastic bottle caps and plastic bags.

Barry Fisher, chief executive at Keep Scotland Beautiful, said: “On the back of an extremely successful Spring Clean, this report celebrates the efforts of many individuals and groups who took time out of their busy lives to carry out surveys and send data to us, providing us with much needed evidence of the range of items that are damaging our rivers and waterways.

“The data shows similarities across the country, but also highlights regional nuances – this report highlights the importance of understanding and addressing these issues at a national and local level.

“I’d like to thank everyone who supported this data drive, from our tireless volunteers to our partners and funders who have shared and echoed our message and vision.

“Scotland’s litter emergency is damaging our rivers. We need our governments to commit to tackling single-use packaging litter through improved Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) regulations and to ensure a Deposit Return Scheme is not further delayed. These policy measures are needed now – litter levels will only get worse without them.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Work is underway through the National Litter and Fly-tipping Strategy and Marine Litter Strategy to target the most problematic sources of littering. This includes delivery of a Deposit Return Scheme for single use drinks containers and UK-wide reforms to Extended Producer Responsibility for packaging.  

“Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme, which was due to be launched in March this year, was delayed due to the UK Government’s 11th hour decision to only provide a partial Internal Market Act exclusion for the scheme. The scheme has therefore necessarily been delayed to October 2027 and will now require to launch at the same time as other countries in the UK.”

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