For god’s sake, bin your damn rubbish
Those too selfish and lazy to properly stash their trash better listen up. It’s time to take a leaf out of Singapore’s book and treat litterers like the criminals they are.
I was a race virgin until recently. Sydney’s Rosehill Gardens is, as expected, an eclectic mix of beautiful and hideous dresses, faceless men with mobiles plastered to their ears on the balcony, hardcore punters in trackie dacks casting a hex on their rivals by invoking Tony Abbott’s name. It was like Parliament, really, with a touch of sunshine and horses.
But somewhere between struggling to walk back and forth from the racing track to the bookies on uneven ground in stilettos, something did surprise me. Betting tickets, plastic drinking cups, hotdog buckets, and loose change everywhere.
During a lap to the bookies, I watched a punter with a wad of cash in one hand and a scrunched-up hotdog bucket in the other. As he walked from one win to make the next, without batting an eyelid, he dropped the hotdog bucket on the ground.
He did it with a flick of the wrist that said he knew exactly what he was doing. A bin was less than two metres away.
If he took three steps or was a half-decent shot, he could have got it in the bin. But he didn’t. Humankind has figured out how to send text messages on invisible radio waves and build nuclear bombs that can destroy entire cities, yet after centuries of evolution we still can’t put our own rubbish in the bin.
According to the 2010 National Litter Index, one in every five Australians litter and 50 per cent of littering occurs within eight metres of a bin. We know it’s wrong, too. State and Territory governments issue fines ranging from $60 to $200 for littering small items. Just in case the law isn’t a good enough deterrent, national campaigns like Trash My Ad and Do the Right Thing run by Keep Australia Beautiful try to switch on some sort of environmental ethical trigger in our brain.
We’ve seen the ads and read the stats. We know littering dirties water streams, kills animals, starts bushfires, and looks ugly. In a moment of poetic clarity, the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change tabled a report that reminded us, “chip packets don’t decompose, they blow around like urban tumble-weeds”. When government writers start using metaphors, you know they’re at their wits’ end.
So, why litter? Psychological studies have tried to nut it out. A 1997 report, Understanding Littering Behaviour in Australia, said people litter due to laziness, lack of social pressure and signage, the perception that litter isn’t an environmental concern, and a feeling that someone else is paid to clean it up.
The recent Look Who’s Littering campaign proposed a solution: “When education (information, knowledge), enforcement (penalising offenders) and engineering (making it easy and convenient) are integrated, attitude and behaviour change [is] likely.”
Let’s put the punter to the test.
It’s a month after Keep Australia Beautiful week. More to the point, anti-littering campaigns have been running for the last 30 years. We know it’s bad. Ignorance is no excuse.
There was a significant concentration of police on hand, meaning enforcement was a possibility.
Dozens of bins were scattered about so there was never a more convenient location for disposing of rubbish.
He had education, the potential for enforcement, and convenience. All the campaign boxes are ticked. It still didn’t work.
Knowing something is bad and not doing that ‘bad’ thing are completely different mentalities.
Odds are that knew he should have binned the rubbish but couldn’t be bothered. Someone else will pick it up, the cops are busy warding off potential drunks, and everyone else’s mind is on money and horses. No one will notice, right?
Wrong. That’s the wrong question to be asking altogether.
Privilege breeds all sorts of things. One of them is selfishness. Not disposing of your own rubbish because you can get away with it and you don’t care anyway is lazy, stupid and selfish. It’s ugly.
Singapore knows how to keep would-be litterers at bay. They fine litterbugs massive amounts of money. That is, up to $5000 for repeat offenders of small items like plastic bags. Plus they make offenders do up to a year of community service.
It’s not uncommon for Singaporeans on community service (Corrective Work Orders) to avoid being noticed by friends and family while doing the time. It’s embarrassing for them.
This is coming from a country who put enforcing littering laws as the first descriptor of their Warrant Enforcement Unit in the Police force (before illegal parking and speeding).
In Victoria last year 0.4 per cent of infringements were related to environment and pollution, 56 per cent were related to traffic, and 37 per cent were related to parking.
Unsurprisingly, Singapore is one of the cleanest countries in the world because of the government’s no-nonsense policy.
Maybe the only thing that will cut through people’s selfishness is directly attacking their hip pocket. Government-sponsored bodies have tried everything else. With more enforcement people will slowly learn that they should take responsibility for the waste they produce.
What’s the alternative? Bin your damn rubbish. It isn’t that hard.
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