Litter and Waste – A National Emergency


Barry Fisher and Chris Johnson – 27 April 2021

These were the first speakers invited to talk to the club specifically to address environmental matters since the creation of the club’s Environment Committee. The setting up of the committee was in response to Rotary International’s granting of Environment as the 7th Area of Focus for Rotary (the first new Area of Focus since Rotary began) which demonstrates the huge importance attached to the challenge. The topic for the evening was “Litter and Waste” which both speakers emphasised was an accelerating national emergency.

Barry Fisher is currently the Chief Executive of Keep Scotland Beautiful the national charity charged with creating a cleaner, greener, sustainable Scotland. Since graduating from Glasgow University and studying at Auchincruive, Barry has worked in a number of important roles, mostly in the voluntary sector, and was an eloquent and accomplished speaker. He began by explaining that tackling litter and waste was one of KSB’s three main aims (the other two are combating climate change with net zero emissions by 2045 and protecting/enhancing Scotland’s places). Key to reducing the amount of litter and waste is the creation of a “circular economy” meaning Reduce/Reuse/Recycle all our potential waste products and KSB runs a number of important national initiatives to encourage this approach. These include educating schoolchildren in ECO-schools, the My Beach/Your Beach campaign and Upstream Battle tackling marine pollution. Visit  for more information on the campaigns.


Chris Johnson is a local, family man who satisfies his passion for the great outdoors by physical activity (cycling and running). It was this that first made him aware of the mushrooming problems of roadside litter and the more general trashing of our local environments by a thoughtless but growing minority. Whilst most of us recognise and moan about these selfish actions and the blight on all our lives, Chris determined to do something. He set-up the “South Ayrshire Clean-up” which, with a rapidly growing Facebook membership, has had overwhelming success. The campaign enlists and encourages like-minded groups and individuals to try to reach a target of picking up 1M pieces of litter throughout South Ayrshire and never could Chris have anticipated the response. Crucial to this success has been the use of social media communications and data collection to allow the scale and extent of the problem throughout South Ayrshire to be assessed. Chris has embarked on a progressive data evaluation exercise which allows littering extent, distribution, principal items, main brands of discarded items. litter hotspots like roadsides and retail parks to be identified, and where necessary, named and shamed. In response to his own question “Why bother?” his answer is “for his children’s futures”. To this might be added “for pride in our community environments”.

What can Rotary do?

Both speakers agreed that we are sleep-walking into another national emergency and that there were three must-do elements to focus on, all of which must be achieved to have the necessary impact:

  • Enforcement (policing and penalties)
  • Education campaigns (on a large scale)
  • Infrastructure (equipment and technology)

BF stressed the desirability of “creative collaboration” between KSB and other organisations including Rotary. Rotary clubs are recognised and respected community leaders and enablers and local community issues are fundamental in addressing global threats. “Think Global – Act Local” is an encouraging strapline when the scale of the world’s environmental problems seems overwhelming. Rotary has a huge part to play in connecting with communities to influence actions and behaviour. It has a massive range of experience and talent to draw on and a deep well of influencer contacts and has already taken a major step in recognising Environment as a key international Area of Focus. KSB runs many national initiatives in which Rotary can be a key participant and will strive to encourage and assist local projects.

Alasdair Meldrum in his vote of thanks to the speakers recognised that they both had taken on difficult but essential jobs and thanked them for the clarity of their combined presentation.