EDITORIAL COMMENT: Bin, anti-litter culture needs support

20 Jan, 2022 - 00:01 0 Views
EDITORIAL COMMENT: Bin, anti-litter culture needs support

The Herald

Zimbabweans tend to embrace a littering culture, at least outside their own homes and their own front gates, dropping their litter where they happen to be standing or driving.

Or if they have some civic pride dumping it in a drain, a pothole or a stream bed.

In 2018 President Mnangagwa launched a national clean-up campaign, setting aside the first Friday of each month as a day when a determined effort would be made, but more importantly not having the litter to clean up in the first place.

This campaign was not intended to allow the littering to continue as usual, while the President personally went round the country picking it up.

It was designed to show there was a serious problem, that the littering culture needed to change, and that it was not beneath anyone’s dignity to dispose of litter properly or pick it up.

In his latest remarks, when everyone had figured out how to restart the campaign in a Covid-19 environment, the President expressed his impatience that so little had been done during lockdowns, even though people were encouraged to continue keeping their own areas clean and to stop throwing litter in the streets in the first place.

If a lot of Zimbabweans embraced the idea of the monthly clean up of their area, they would also become more aware of the sheer scale of littering, would themselves stop dropping their rubbish, and would probably at least protest if they saw others doing that.

No one likes cleaning up litter, and the easiest way to avoid this sometimes repulsive process is not to have the litter there in the first place.

But more is needed than just an inclination not to litter. To take two countries where the streets and roadsides are always clean, Singapore and Namibia.

Singapore, soon after independence was not the cleanest city in the world and being a multi-ethnic state there was also the tendency for everyone to blame someone else, while they themselves, of course, were perfect.

The large number of visitors in a major economic and trade hub did not help. The Government changed that. Anti-litter laws were enforced, and fines were increased.

This was sufficiently strongly done that hotels would warn guests about the laws as they went through the doors, saying it would make their stay far more fun if they did not drop litter and convert their shopping money into fines.

But it was backed up with the infrastructure. Every lamppost had a litter bin, and to show the seriousness of the campaign each of those bins had a little ashtray inside the lip where people could stub out cigarettes.

At that time Singaporeans tended to be heavy smokers and no one wanted stubs in the streets, fires in bins or even spent matches dropped. The campaign worked.

Namibia has the cleanest streets in Southern Africa. There is a very strong culture among the people to keep it that way, and although there are street sweepers these are there to sweep up the sand that a desert country generates, since there is no litter to sweep up.

But Namibian towns and cities have bins every few metres, most provided by the businesses, with one outside every shop, but emptied by the local authority, and they are big bins.

The anti-littering culture means they are treated properly and are not vandalised. A tourist dropping even a match stick is told, within seconds, that “we do not do that here”.

This frequency of bins is largely missing in Zimbabwe, despite the determined efforts by some public spirited companies. There was a modest effort when the campaign started, with a minority of companies erecting bins, but because numbers were low and garbage collection was less than perfect these overflowed, were raided by people looking for empty bottles, and were vandalised.

So now the Ministry of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry wants a far more determined and co-ordinated effort. For a start, every business should have a public bin, and every bus and every kombi.

This would make nonsense of the excuses that there is nowhere to drop litter. But those bins need daily emptying by the local authority. This is needed not just in town and city centres, but also in shopping centres, where the couple of public spirited firms with their overflowing bins need support from everyone else to spread the load.

Then there are the other areas, where there is no one obvious to take responsibility, starting with bus terminuses. Litter is not as bad as one might expect in these, despite the paucity of bins, but the present heavy rains showed why; the drains were totally blocked despite the catchpits having been cleaned out a few weeks ago.

So people had to wade through water that came over their ankles with litter floating in it. As has been suggested for the roofless and unmaintained shelters, advertising rights could be used to finance the upgrade in terminuses where thousands gather every hour as a captive audience.

No one would mind every decent shelter adorned with advertising and no one would mind big useful bins emblazoned with slogans. And such bins will be needed not just by the waiting passengers, but also by the bus and kombi crews emptying their bins after every couple of trips.

Even in residential areas public bins are needed, especially near shopping centres to catch the people walking with a pie in one hand and a bottle in the other, and dropping the empty packs outside someone’s gate when finished.

So the new stress on a bin culture, as well as an anti-litter culture, is useful. Most people will probably, especially if others protest, walk a short distance to dump litter. And then the anti-litter laws, and there are there, can be enforced.

The anti-litter culture must also extend to car users and owners. A surprising number of people buy a takeaway, eat it in the car, and then chuck the box out of the window, not in their street of course, but in someone else’s.

They say they must keep their car clean and litter free. Recycling a shopping bag by keeping one in the car, and dumping it when you get home in your own bin, sorts that out.

As some countries have shown, and even in Zimbabwe. Bulawayo has a far stronger anti-litter culture than Harare with far less litter on the streets, mindsets can change.

We all need to take responsibility and accept that we carry our litter until we find a bin, while at the same time the business community, local authorities, civic organisations and others ensure the bins are there, and emptied frequently.

The new campaign by the Climate Ministry to have both the bins, regularly emptied, and the culture change is a practical step, and needs to be embraced, as does enforcement of existing laws. The Presidential campaign is still needed, but more and more this must be, once the past mess is collected, be centred on creating that civic pride we need to make it clear that littering is no longer tolerated.

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