Scotland Should Adopt A Highway

29 Aug 2007

A verison of this article by Suart Crawford appeared in The Scotsman on 29th August

There has been much correspondence in the Scotsman of late on the subject of rubbish, particularly the amount of litter that seems to accompany the Edinburgh Festival year after year. It is perhaps unfair to single out the capital for criticism, but there’s no doubt that there is an issue here. Edinburgh City Council, in common with many other local authorities and statutory bodies across Scotland, seem to be overwhelmed by the scale of the problem.

Some of the difficulties are procedural. It is one of life’s little irritations that litter and rubbish need to be removed most urgently at exactly the same time as Council workers are not around, in the evening or at the weekend. You only have to walk through Princes Street Gardens on a Sunday morning to see overflowing bins and swirling mini tornados of Saturday night flotsam.

Given the size of the task and the authorities’ inability to deal with it, plus its detrimental effect on both tourism and our national self-esteem, it’s perhaps surprising that no-one has looked seriously at other countries to see how they cope. Like the USA, for example. In the field of community involvement in litter clearance Americans leave us Scots standing.

For years nearly every state in the USA has run a community programme called “Adopt A Highway”. In essence, local organisations – businesses, voluntary groups, churches, sports clubs etc – contract with their local authority, on a voluntary basis, to keep roadsides clear of litter. Each organisation takes responsibility for lifting litter along an agreed stretch of road at least four times a year, depending on local factors. In return, the local authority supplies safety training and equipment (like high visibility vests) and removes the bags of rubbish in the wake of the cleanup. They also position signs at the boundaries of the contracted area declaring “This section of highway has been adopted by ……..”, thereby giving the local group a little bit of publicity. So successful have such schemes been that they’ve been exported to Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

So what’s stopping Adopt A Highway being started in Scotland? The Scottish Executive is well aware of its existence, and the Parliament has been petitioned on the subject, way back in 1999. But a combination of lack of ambition and distrust of foreign ideas has ensured that the idea has been stillborn. Which is a pity, for what more visible sign of Scotland’s poverty of spirit and aspiration can there be than the mounds of rubbish which deface town and country?

Adopt A Highway is not the full answer, but it’s most definitely part of it. We should at least pilot this tried and tested scheme which involves the local population in an exercise in social responsibility whilst at the same time improving our country’s image. Where’s the political champion to take it on?

Stuart Crawford is the author of Adopt-A-Highway, A Citizens’ Solution to Scotland’s Litter Problem, available on this web site under ‘publications’