Supermarket carrier bag litter in Scotland has risen 38% since February 2014 despite the introduction of a carrier bag charge in October the same year, according to a new study. 

The study, which was commissioned by the environmental organisation INCPEN and conducted by Keep Scotland Beautiful, was carried out across 120 sites in Edinburgh, Falkirk, Renfrewshire and Inverness. 

Keep Scotland Beautiful found that other items that did not carry a charge had gone down as the number of drinks containers decreased 18% and coffee cups by 36%, while supermarket carrier bags had gone up, despite representing less than half a percentage of the litter.

The top five kinds of larger pieces of litter, aside from gum and cigarette butts, were identified as paper (9%), sweet wrappers (6%), soft drink cans (6%), plastic soft drink bottles (6%) and cigarette packets (4%). 

Jane Bickerstaffe, CEO of INCPEN said: “Two years on from the introduction of the carrier bag charge the litter problem is as bad as ever. The charge does not appear to influence people who litter. 

“It suggests that more charges and deposits on other items, such as disposable coffee cups and drinks bottles, will not make a difference. These charges would simply place additional financial strain on hard working families because, unlike a bag charge which is avoidable if you take your own bag, everyone who wants a drink would have to pay.” 

Experience of litter prevention suggests that the issue is best tackled through more innovative approaches to engaging communities and changing behaviour, she said. INCOEN supports Hubbub’s ‘Neat Streets’ campaign. 

“There are many good local campaigns and initiatives but what’s needed is a long term national programme that makes it socially unacceptable to litter anything. INCPEN recommends that governments look at how we change the behaviour of litterers, so everyone is proud of their environment and everyone puts all rubbish in a bin or takes it home,” added Bickerstaffe.