It’s the behaviour, not the business
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.