Local Environmental Audit
and Management System

Clean streets, towns, cities, parks and open spaces are important to all of us. They make the places where we live, work and travel more pleasant and ultimately improve our quality of life. Issues such as litter and dog fouling spoil our environment. They give the appearance of places being uncared for and devalue neighbourhoods as locations in which to live and work. Not only this, each year these issues cost Scotland more than £50 million to deal with.

To monitor issues such as litter, dog fouling, flytipping, flyposting and graffiti, and in partnership with Scotland’s local authorities, we carry out annual local environmental quality surveys at a random selection of sites across Scotland every year. This information enables local authorities to be efficient with their local cleaning activity and informs their policies and campaigns to tackle these issues. It also supports the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Code of Practice on Litter and Refuse (Scotland) 2018 which require local authorities and others to keep specified land and public roads clean and litter-free.

The approach we use is called the Local Environmental Audit and Management System (or LEAMS) and the audits collect information on litter types and source. Alongside this, other indicators such as weeds, graffiti, flytipping and vandalism, are also recorded to provide an overall picture of every site. Audits are carried out by each local authority as well as by us (to provide independence and validation).

The 2020/21 LEAMS audit

During the 2020/2021 financial year, 71 audits took place, with a minimum of two audits in each local authority area. In total, 10,869 individual sites were assessed for litter and local environmental quality. The Covid-19 pandemic had a significant impact on the ability of local authorities to carry out street cleansing and litter monitoring duties, as well as on our monitoring. This should be taken into consideration when analysing long term trends.

This year’s LEAMS audit highlights the following trends:

  • The number of locations with unacceptable amounts of litter has increased since last year
  • High proportions of local environmental quality issues tend to be in urban areas
  • Urban local authorities have seen the greatest decline in sites with acceptable levels of litter
  • Cigarette ends are the most common litter type
  • Food and drink packaging litter is common, particularly along roadside verges
  • The most deprived areas continue to have higher litter levels than less deprived areas
  • There are more sites with significant and severe weed growth and detritus
  • Graffiti, flyposting and gum staining are more common in town/city centre areas
  • Dog fouling is an issue in high density residential areas

The reasons for these trends are complex and there are many factors which play a part. The pandemic has had a considerable impact on the ability of local authorities to meet expected street cleansing standards. The ongoing decline in the level of public resources is also making it harder for local authorities to deal with litter and other cleansing duties.

However, alongside these challenges there are other factors which are also having an impact – an increase in packaging litter, particularly single-use disposable food and drinks packaging, and population dense communities also play a part.

Over half of sites have food and drink litter
Highest percentage of sites with fast food litter in ten years

1 in 10

footpaths and verges in high density areas have dog fouling
30% of sites audited recorded a significant issue with either litter, weed growth and/or detritus

More than half

of local authorities have seen an increase in the percentage of unacceptably littered sites since last year

Residential areas

have shown an increase in litter, 1 in 10 now at unacceptable levels
Less than 1 in 5 sites were litter free
Almost 2 in 3 sites had smoking related litter, the highest proportion in over ten years
More than 2 PPE items littered every 1 km

About the LEAMS approach

LEAMS uses a standard approach to record litter. Five grades are used to assess the overall presence of litter at an audited site:

Grade A No litter
Grade B+ Predominantly free of litter – up to three small items
Grade B Predominantly free of litter
Grade C Widespread distribution of litter with minor accumulations
Grade D Heavily littered with significant accumulations

*Sites that score either a grade C or D are considered unacceptable and require cleaning.

LEAMS records the following:

Types of litter
  • Dog fouling
  • Smoking-related
  • Drinks-related
  • Confectionery
  • Fast-food-related
  • Royal Mail elastic bands
  • Plastic bags
  • Coffee cups
  • Other: such as newspaper, plastic fragments and chewing gum
Sources of litter
  • Pedestrian waste: including drink cans, confectionery wrappers, fast food packaging and cigarette butts
  • Business waste: any waste that has come directly from a business
  • Domestic waste: for example, household packaging or spillage from refuse collection
  • Construction waste: such as sand bags and builders’ rubble
  • Animal faeces: any type of animal faeces
Other environmental indicators
  • Weeds
  • Detritus: such as twigs, leaves, grass and sand which can trap litter
  • Vandalism
  • Graffiti
  • Flyposting
  • Flytipping
  • Staining: for example, from chewing gum
  • Litter bins: the number of litter bins is recorded, as well as whether the bin is full / overflowing (these are bins which are over three quarters full)

Type of local authority

To enable easier comparison, local authorities are grouped together into four ‘clubs’. These are based on population and the distribution of population. Club 1 authorities are generally more rural, clubs 2 and 3 are mixed rural/urban (with club 3 having more urban areas than club 2) and club 4 covers the most urban authorities.

Local authority clubs
Club 1 Eilean Siar, Argyll and Bute, Shetland Islands, Highland, Orkney Islands, Scottish Borders, Dumfries and Galloway, Aberdeenshire
Club 2 Perth and Kinross, Stirling, Moray, South Ayrshire, East Ayrshire, East Lothian, North Ayrshire, Fife
Club 3 Angus, Clackmannanshire, Midlothian, South Lanarkshire, Inverclyde, Renfrewshire, West Lothian, East Renfrewshire
Club 4 North Lanarkshire, Falkirk, East Dunbartonshire, Aberdeen City, City of Edinburgh, West Dunbartonshire, Dundee City, Glasgow City

Street cleanliness and litter-related results

Scotland-wide street cleanliness

Since last year, the overall Scotland-wide street cleanliness score has gone down by 2.1%. This means that there are far too many sites in Scotland spoilt by unacceptable amounts of litter, which devalue our neighbourhoods and cost money to clean up.

Furthermore, our data continues to show a correlation between litter levels and levels of deprivation. When looking at the 20% most deprived areas 28% have unacceptable litter levels compared with 4% in the 20% least deprived.

Common litter types

Cigarette litter
Despite being small, and therefore not as noticeable, cigarette litter is by far the most common type of litter found in Scotland. 64% of sites audited had some amount of cigarette litter. This increased to 86% of town/ city sites.
Food and drink litter
More than half of sites have food and drink litter, which is a very visibe type of litter. Over a third of sites had drinks-related litter, more than two in five sites had confectionery litter and more than one out of every six sites had fast food related litter.
Dog fouling
The amount of dog fouling recorded has reduced since last year. 6% of sites recorded this issue, compared to 8% in 2019/20. In high density residential areas, dog fouling was recorded at one in ten sites.
PPE items
This was a new litter type for 2020/21 and a direct result of the pandemic. It was only recorded for part of the year, however, in this time more than two PPE items were counted every km surveyed. The PPE was mostly made up of masks and gloves.

Wider local environmental quality results

As well as litter-related issues, there are a number of other factors which can negatively impact the places in which we live and work, and which we record as part of the LEAMS process:

Weed growth
Slightly less weed growth was seen from last year – a decrease of 10%. However, the number of sites with significant or severe weed growth has increased to one in eight.
Over half of all sites had detritus – but this was a decrease from last year. One in eight sites had a significant or severe detritus problem though which is an increase since last year. This goes up to one in seven sites in residential areas.
Graffiti was mainly found in town/city centres where it was found at 14% of sites audited and 7% had a significant or severe presence. Across Scotland as a whole, graffiti was found at 1 in 16 sites.
Encouragingly, vandalism continues to be a minor issue in Scotland. Less than 2% of sites had any vandalism, with higher concentrations in town/city centres. However, the number of sites with vandalism almost doubled in high-density residential areas.
As expected, illegal advertising was mainly seen in town/city centre. Across Scotland only 3% of sites had flyposting, however this rose to 10% in town/city centres, an increase of 4% since last year.
Only a small number of sites recorded flytipping this year, at 4% of sites. However, this is an increase from last year. High-density residential areas had the highest amount with more than 7% of sites affected. Most cases of flytipping were found to be minor and less than 1% of sites were more extensively affected.
The number of sites affected by staining to the ground has decreased slighty but remains at around 10% of sites audited. Most staining is caused by chewing gum and in town/city centres this was found at one in four sites.


The last five years of national LEAMS programme have continued to highlight the areas that are in the most need for intervention to improve the quality of the local environmental and have also reported the fluctuating trends at a more local level.

Taking a longer-term view, it is clear that achieving a substantial improvement in our local environmental quality in the years to come will require concerted and collaborative action on the part of all key stakeholders. We are currently working in partnership with Zero Waste Scotland, local authorities and other stakeholders on a new Litter Monitoring System (LMS). We also have several campaigns to raise awareness, gather evidence and inspire people to take positive action.

In addition, we highlighted the need for further action in our recent report on the wider issues associated with local environmental quality. This includes a litter summit in early 2021 to agree a collective approach across sectors to tackling this issue which has taken place as well as:

  • A commitment to publish a new national strategy by the end of 2021 at the latest.
  • Sustained national campaigns with consistent messaging.
  • A programme of education and behaviour change to create a Litter-ate Scotland.
  • Establishment of a behaviour change innovation fund to develop and test new infrastructure solutions.
  • A review of the failing model of enforcement.
  • A national, collective network of people, organisations, communities and agencies working together to jointly reverse the decline.

We will continue to promote, share and support partnership working in order to deal with these wider issues and in particular reverse these local environmental quality trends that have been highlighted in our LEAMS audits and findings. We will also look forward to continuing to support auditing, monitoring and validation; working in partnership with local authorities as the transition from the current Local Environmental Audit and Management System to the new Litter Monitoring System moves forward.