Glasgow is dirty. At least that’s the story that has been told about Scotland’s largest city in recent years.
Social and mainstream media were overflowing with images of overflowing trash cans, filthy, dilapidated alleyways and what amounted to illegal dumping under a highway.
This summer, Time Out Magazine even named the city the third dirtiest city in the world, behind Rome and New York. Admittedly, this was based on an online reader survey, not actual evidence.
And Glasgow – like most major urban areas – really has problems with litter, fly tipping, graffiti and even weeds in the streets.
But, benchmark inspections of its public places suggest it was getting cleaner, not dirtier, during media and political wrangling over its “manky streets”.
The Herald yesterday revealed that Scotland is getting dirtier and dirtier. We obtained data from LEAMS, the report on local environmental auditing and management systems carried out by the independent charity Keep Scotland Beautiful (KSB). It gave Scotland its lowest score since inspections began in the early 2000s. More than a tenth of the country’s streets and public places were unacceptably littered. And inspections were worse in two of the council’s three areas. But not, in this case, in Glasgow.
Scotland’s biggest city for years has had the worst performance in the country, thanks to its unusually busy center with all its visitors and vast swaths of deprivation. The year before last, he came out of this basement, coming from the third from the last. In the LEAMS for 2021-22 – he had moved up to fourth from bottom.
City officials don’t brag about it. Glasgow, after all, is even worse than average. The LEAMS scores of the different local authorities have not been published. But The Herald on Sunday understands the city got 86%. That may sound high – but it means 14% of its controlled public spaces were unacceptably littered, compared to a record national average of 10.3%. A year earlier, at the height of the pandemic in 2020-21, Glasgow scored 82.4%. Only Edinburgh and Falkirk have done worse.
Stephen Egan is the city’s street and park cleanliness officer. This time last year, while not ducking the scale of the challenges, he told this newspaper he was “puzzled” that Glasgow had come under criticism. Covid has had a devastating effect on the abilities of local authorities across the UK and Europe to clean the streets.
Glasgow has redeployed some of its street cleaners to help collect household rubbish.
Now, he says, indicators, like the LEAMS, are heading in the right direction.
The new numbers reflect the state of the city in the year to the end of this March. This means that it does not include recent strikes.
Egan said the industrial action was “frustrating”, creating, albeit for a short time, an image of the city that no one wanted.
“I think we’ve made good progress,” he said. “I think we have made improvements.”
But, as with the national image, the cleanliness of a city depends not only on its council, but on its citizens and visitors.
The Scottish Government is currently finalizing a new national strategy on fly tipping and rubbish, which is of course against the law.
“I think there’s an understanding that it’s going to take some level of behavioral change to deal with some of the challenges around litter and fly tipping,” he said. “I think it’s expected that services and infrastructure also need to improve.
“In Glasgow we’ve introduced all these high capacity bins. We now have 125% more capacity with street letter bins than we had three or four years ago. That’s a huge increase.”
Glasgow, as it emerged last week, spends more per capita cleaning streets than any other local authority in Scotland. This partly reflects its appeal to shoppers, drinkers, football fans and other out-of-town visitors. – and the mess they make. The city – like its closest counterpart Edinburgh – has more tidying up to do than most other councils.
There are long-standing disputes with unions over how many workers there should be – the latest figures show a slight drop. The Herald on Sunday understands there has been little improvement in unusually high absenteeism rates in recent years.
In August, new teams launched an ongoing program of deep cleaning which will pass through each of Glasgow’s 56 wards.
The City Council, in its annual budget this spring, approved an additional £2million in funding for these teams, which are designed, at least in part, to make up for work that has not been done during the pandemic .
What is deep cleaning? Well, that will include removing any fly spills. But the new teams – about 52 people – will remove more of what officials and experts call “rubbish”. It is the disaster, the twigs and what remains of leaves, which accumulates in our streets. Above all, it also helps to attract what we generally think of as trash. The national LEAMS suggests that we are seeing a lot more of this type of litter.
Deep cleaners will also weed, physically hijacking plant growth on roads and sidewalks. This, one official admitted, has been overlooked during the pandemic. Just like chemical weed control. Letting vegetation grow could end up damaging infrastructure.
“We recognize that we haven’t done our herbicide programs properly over the past two years,” Egan said. “So that probably means there’s a little more weed on the streets than there would have been.”
Egan also points out that his deep-cleaning crews will be sifting through hedges to bring in litter from passers-by.
“For some reason, some people just drop cans in hedgerows,” Egan said. “I don’t know why they are doing this. Maybe they think they’re somehow hiding the litter. In fact, this strange Scotland-wide habit creates very hard work for cleaners and gardeners.
“Deep clean-up crews will change the look of these neighborhoods and streets, as they remove hard-to-reach litter, flying displays.”
Green charities are warning Scotland is in the grip of a waste crisis. KSB, for example, says it “hides in plain sight”. It is not enough to strengthen the capacity of the board to deal with the problem. The government’s new strategy will likely also propose changes to the enforcement regime, including for gangsters carrying out industrial activities. scale tipping.
Glasgow did not wait for change. She has already taken a new approach during a series of “action weeks.” He got some publicity for taping up flying spike trash to look like a crime scene, putting up signs with QR codes that take witnesses to a webpage where they can testify.
Gary Walker leads the council’s enforcement wing, not just on waste. He points out that the “crime scene” pitch is essentially a call for the audience to “help us out, it’s a hard thing to do.”
“If we discover the fly dumps. we don’t automatically lift it, even if it’s on public land, we put up the signage, put the tape around it and give it a few days, so people see we’re doing something about it, but also to report any issues,” he said.
The city’s response to flytipping – including by businesses looking to save a few pounds on commercial waste – was once largely reactive. Someone would report a crime and investigate. Now they go more and more on the front foot.
Council officials visit companies and ask to see their baccalaureate contracts. But they also try to cajole rather than chase. In 2021, the local authority issued 124 duty of care notices to businesses, telling them they had two weeks to find a contractor. So far this year, they’ve done the same thing 250 times. The warning seems to work: most companies comply with it. There have been 18 Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) issued for commercial waste in 2021 and 11 so far this year. “They get the message and do something about it,” Walker said.
Catching people littering or making dog mistakes is less of a hassle than chasing dumpsters or businesses that don’t have proper business contractors. Officers simply issue FPNs to those they see committing the offence.
During the pandemic, less work has been done. The numbers have jumped this calendar year. In 2021, 21 FPNs were issued for dog soiling and 175 for waste. So far this year, those numbers have risen to 173 and 878, respectively.
Glasgow is dirty, but not the dirtiest.