What do we want the Scottish Government to do? Introduce a daily cleaning routine that includes litter picking and waste separation in the school curriculum.

The litter problem in Scotland needs no introduction. Barry Fisher of Keep Scotland Beautiful recently stated that ‘Scotland is facing a potential litter emergency’ [1].

The culture of littering in Scotland has to change. This has to be through systemic changes to our laws and education system. Littering has to become socially unacceptable. We need to foster a culture of pride and personal responsibility for keeping areas around us clean. To help foster this culture, schools need to teach children how to clean up after themselves. The Scottish government must make daily cleaning part of the curriculum in schools to help children learn respect for the environment and take responsibility for keeping the area around them clean. Guidance on the steps involved in implementing this can be found in [2]. The school cleaning routine only needs to be carried out for 15-20minutes a day1.

School cleaning by pupils is what they do in Japan and Taiwan, and it is one of the reasons that Japan is so famously clean. In Japan ‘For 12 years of school life, from elementary school to high school, cleaning time is part of students’ daily schedule’ [3]. This works because ‘if students are responsible for their mess, they are less likely to make it in the first place and will show respect for their surroundings.’ [1] Furthermore, ‘In Japanese society, cleaning as a form of character development is advocated by many different types of agents, including zen monks to company executives, not just educators’ [4].

Models of promoting non-cognitive aspects of learning ‘are often linked to the development of citizenship, values, ethics and morality that are considered culturally and socially dependent’ [5]. Japan and Taiwan are the pioneers of this approach. School cleaning has since been adopted in Egypt, Singapore, the Philippines and India. Studies have shown that in Japan, a culture of cleanliness introduced at an early stage, has molded society into forming a different perspective where waste is seen as commodity and therefore reusable. Besides making street cleaning almost unnecessary, therefore reducing the costs associated with it, this cultural shift is also essential in the context of waste reduction and recycling to ease the emergency related to pollution and excessive waste [6]. 

If school children in other countries can do this, then so can school children in Scotland. The Scottish Government has already recognised the need to bring ‘Learning for Sustainability’ resources into the curriculum. In [7] it is stated that a review on the subject “identified a strong need and an appetite was demonstrated by schools/teachers for a curriculum linked approach”. However, we demand the Scottish Government go further and implement a learn by doing approach which is tried and tested in other countries. 

For the past years, anti-littering strategies, campaigns and clean-up activities mentioned in [7] have just scratched the surface. Litter picking carried out by volunteers only mitigates the effects of Scotland’s littering problem. It’s time for a systemic change to address the issue to its core and drive a cultural shift in society about littering and respect for the environment.

1.Particularly for schools with problems with litter in the school grounds and surroundings, longer may be required for the litter picking activity, such as 30-60 minutes per day. By using a daily litter picking rota, with groups of 25-50 pupils, each pupil will only have to attend once a month. In time, the need to litter pick will slowly diminish as less rubbish gets dropped.


[2] https://hundred.org/en/innovations/cleaning-tradition#bdd9c6cb

[3] http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20191006-what-japan-can-teach-us-about-cleanliness

[4] https://www.schoolexcellence.p.u-tokyo.ac.jp/wp/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/wp006.pdf

[5] Tokkatsu: The Japanese Educational Model Of Holistic Education, edited by Ryoko Tsuneyoshi, Hiroshi Sugita, Kanako, 2020

[6] A comparative study of littering and waste in Singapore and Japan, Ivy Bee Luan Ong, Benjamin K. Sovacool, 2012,  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.resconrec.2011.12.008

[7] https://www.gov.scot/publications/five-years-review-scotlands-national-litter-strategy/pages/8/