It’s the be­hav­iour, not the busi­ness

The Queens County Advance - - COMMUNITY - Wendy El­liott’s col­umn reg­u­larly ap­pears in the Val­ley Jour­nal-ad­ver­tiser.

This is the sea­son when the size of the lit­ter prob­lem on our high­ways and by­ways re­ally hits home. The ac­cu­mu­lated guck has been there all win­ter and the snow sit­ting on it is fast melt­ing.

Not too long ago, I got to take in a work­shop with in­di­vid­u­als prov­ince-wide who are in­ter­ested in what to do with the lit­ter over­load. It’s not like there’s no ef­fort be­ing made - Adopt a High­way and Clean Nova Sco­tia pro­grams, for ex­am­ple, col­lect close to 20,000 bags of the stuff ev­ery year.

Lit­ter­ing is frus­trat­ing be­cause it is ev­i­dence of be­hav­iour that doesn’t have to take place and anti-lit­ter­ing pro­grams cost us, the prov­ince’s tax­pay­ers, a quar­ter of a mil­lion dol­lars an­nu­ally.

Grace Proszyn­ska, who is the by­law en­force­ment of­fi­cer for Val­ley Waste Re­source Man­age­ment, gave a re­ally good over­view of anti-lit­ter ini­tia­tives glob­ally. She de­scribed how Sin­ga­pore, for ex­am­ple, has be­come one of the clean­est coun­tries in the world.

In Sin­ga­pore, if you spit or toss gum on the side­walk, the fine is $100. On a third of­fence, lit­ter­ers have to wear a sign that says: ‘I am a lit­ter lout.’ I was sur­prised to hear from a Stel­lar­ton res­i­dent that spit­ting on the side­walk is pro­hib­ited there. En­force­ment is an­other is­sue.

Ac­cord­ing to Grace, there is no short­age of en­force­ment of­fi­cers in Sin­ga­pore due to the be­lief that there is no point in hav­ing a law that is not en­forced. In other words, she said, there is no way to es­cape.

Ger­many, as one might ex­pect, is an­other su­per clean coun­try due to strong leg­is­la­tion. The fine for lit­ter­ing a lone cig­a­rette butt is $30.

Ap­par­ently, Ki­gali in Rwanda has been deemed the clean­est city in the world by Forbes Mag­a­zine. Its cit­i­zens, on the last Satur­day of ev­ery month, view it as their pa­tri­otic duty to tackle lit­ter as a com­mu­nal project.

Grace says that Nova Sco­tia is some­where in the mid­dle of the pack when it comes to clean com­mu­ni­ties. Ed­u­ca­tion and the in­volve­ment of all lev­els of gov­ern­ment leads to im­prove­ment, but Face­book pub­lic sham­ing seems to help too.

There are a lot of peo­ple who’ve lost faith in the sys­tem of en­force­ment, but ef­forts are un­der­way now in Queens County to put a lit­ter watch in ef­fect. Traf­fic stops to hand out ed­u­ca­tional brochures are also planned for Earth Day.

Kirk Sy­monds, who is a waste ed­u­ca­tor on the South Shore, pointed out that it is not Baby Boomers who lit­ter. The fin­ger most of­ten gets pointed at young males who drive pick-up trucks.

He also noted that fast food pack­ag­ing, while it seems to be ev­ery­where, only amounts to, at most, 25 per cent of all lit­ter. Sy­monds also noted that we ought to blame the be­hav­iour, not the com­pa­nies who sell fast food. The big­gest per­cent­age in the lit­ter pile is to­bacco leav­ings – butts and pack­ag­ing, which is re­ally un­nec­es­sary.

One thing Sy­monds said that stuck in my head is that we have to fight the sen­ti­ment that noth­ing can be done about the anti-so­cial be­hav­iour that causes lit­ter. That kind of com­pla­cency is the worst en­emy, he said.

In Bri­tain, the fines for be­ing a ‘lit­ter lout’ are dou­bling. En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Therese Cof­fey said re­cently, “Lit­ter­ing is a scourge on our en­vi­ron­ment and we waste tax­pay­ers’ money clean­ing it up funds which could be bet­ter spent in the com­mu­nity.”

It seems to me the mes­sage we need to be send­ing is that lit­ter­ing is sheer lazi­ness. What is most im­por­tant is the en­vi­ron­ment where we live. It is not dif­fi­cult for the oc­cu­pants of ve­hi­cles to bag and bin waste. Even cig­a­rette butts con­tain plas­tic, so please don’t toss them.

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