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Litter is a common menace which one can witness in all urban areas. Streets, sidewalks, parking lots, roads and highways are mostly covered with food wrappers, soft drink and water bottles, plastic bags, handbills, cigarette butts, tissues and papers etc. Littering is most likely to take place at locations where litter is already present.
Around 1.9 billion tons of litter ends up in the ocean every year which clearly shows that people tend to throw things randomly anywhere more often that they throw waste in garbage bins. Litter is not just an ugly or an aesthetic problem; it has serious environmental consequences that can persist for decades. Styrofoam container takes up to a million years to decompose and break down. A disposable diaper can take more than 500 years; cigarette more than 10 years etc.
Litter has the potential to cause harm to human health, safety, welfare as well as the environment. The harmful impact of litter includes trapping or poisoning animals, killing aquatic life directly through choking and indirectly through its impact on water quality. Littering can be a fire hazard and it attracts pests and rodents.
Litter carry germs, rats are carriers of many types of diseases that make people ill. Litter also cause accidents on roads as drivers avoid litter on road. Young children fall on litter in play grounds and can get injured. Litter also harm plants, vegetation and natural areas.
There are several factors that may impact on littering behaviour including inconvenience and laziness, absence of ownership or pride for the area, feeling that someone else / municipal workers will pick it up, number, capacity, placement and appearance of litter bins at or near the site, absence of realistic penalties, legislation enforcement, lack of social pressure and lack of knowledge of the environmental impacts of littering.
Almost all of us litter in one way or the other, littering is something we learn from others and unconsciously pass on to our children. The temptation to ‘litter’ is usually motivated by disrespect to the law and its enforcement as well as ignorance and arrogance in our attitude, thinking that the municipal worker will clean our mess.
Litter is a problem that can be controlled. Education is an important tool. People who are aware of the dangers of litter often make more of an effort to always put their trash in bins. They also spread the word to others they see littering and teach them to dispose of garbage the right way. Community clean ups encourage people to take pride in their community and maintaining a health look. Quick removal of litter keeps it from growing into an unmanageable dump site.
It is heartening to note that new fines of up to BD 50 for littering, spitting or urinating in the street are being debated by the Shura Council after approval of the Parliament. People who fail to dispose of household garbage will face penalties from BD 100 to BD 300. Such offences currently incur a flat municipal fine of BD10 only, but punishments are due to be increased under a new Cleanliness Law. The situation also calls for an immediate national awareness drive by the concerned authorities so that cleanliness should become our habit. The long-term strategy can only be launched through schools, television, radio and social media to raise awareness of a clean community. Throwing litter is easy but holding onto garbage until you reach a bin is required. We require a national awareness drive and we understand it’s impacts.
Litter can be conquered. People can make a difference. It is our responsibility to clean up the litter in an ‘earth-friendly manner.’ Clean communities have a better chance of attracting new business, residents and tourists. There is no reason for any of us to litter because we can always find a litter bin to throw the trash away.
Let us set an example for others, especially children, by not littering and by carrying a litterbag in our vehicle, securely covering trash containers to prevent wind or animals from spreading litter, when visiting parks and recreation areas make sure to leave the area clean for the next person to enjoy and restricting the distribution and disposal of handbills.
* Head of Waste Disposal Unit, Supreme Council for Environment, Bahrain. (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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