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Paying For Litter October 31, 2007

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Environment.
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Garbage Bin

When I was four years old and living in Vienna, Austria, I spent one leisurely afternoon at a park with my mother and father. An elderly couple nearby walked past us and – much to my horror at the time – flicked a candy bar wrapper on the unblemished ground. I trotted over as quickly as my little legs could carry me, bent over to retrieve the wrapper and shuffled towards a nearby bin so I could dispose of the waste. Then, I approached the couple – who had been quietly observing my actions – and I addressed them in German as I exclaimed ‘you shouldn’t throw stuff on the ground!’ I was a patronizing little munchkin, I’ll admit, but the message is an important one. In fact, it’s a message that some cities are beginning to take seriously. Better still, they’re showing just how seriously they take the message by implementing strict rules and regulations around littering, as well as imposing swift penalties for those who don’t abide.

Thimphu City

Credit: Isabelle of Globosapiens.

Welcome To Bhutan

Bhutan, a nation that is located between India and China in South Asia, has passed a new law aimed at preventing both littering and pollution in Thimphu, which is the nation’s capital. The plan is to get the three r’s – reduce, reuse and recycle – ingrained in the public minds and actions. Here’s a look at some of the rules that were just passed:

  • Burning waste or urinating within city limits can lead to fines of up to 20,000 ngultrums. That’s approximately $450 Cdn or £225.
  • Dumping of hazardous waste can also result in high fines.
  • Dropping litter on the street can give someone a fine of 100 to 500 ngultrums.

Is It That Important?

Don't Litter Yes! Thimphu generates approximately 35 metric tonnes of waste every single day. The scariest part is that in 2002, it generated 11 metric tonnes of waste each day. The city has grown quite a bit, so that’s one reason for the big jump in numbers but the population growth is still not large enough to excuse the amount of waste currently generated. When we see high numbers in terms of waste, it’s at least a positive step if the number is lower than the number in previous years because it shows that there has been progress. In this case though, it’s a significant step backwards. Ideally, these new regulations can change all of that by making the public more aware of their waste and teaching them appropriate ways to get rid of garbage. It’s a shame that a fear of fines and other penalties will encourage compliance – rather than care about the environment itself – but if it works, then it’s a positive step!

Meet The Littering Team

Bhutan Kids Well actually, I hope that anyone living in Thimphu doesn’t meet the littering team, because that would probably mean they had broken one of the new laws! To ensure that the public abides by these new regulations, 10 environment inspectors have been appointed to monitor compliance and help keep the city clean. By working 6 days a week for 12 hours each day, the inspectors will be on the lookout for offenders around the city. What about if kids get caught littering? Do they get off? Nope. Not a chance! Their parents will have to pay the fine – I’m also going to guess that the parents will not be too happy, so a scolding will probably follow suit for the littering kid. Yikes.

It’s thought that if these new laws are successfully received by the public, Thimphu could soon become one of the cleanest areas in South Asia. It’s a good example to watch because areas in the world that don’t currently have effective laws for waste management can learn from Thimphu and any nations that have experienced success in waste reduction.

You Don’t Need Laws

No laws? Wait, that doesn’t sound right! What I mean is that if your city doesn’t have any strict laws around littering, you can still be aware of waste and you can find better ways to dispose of it so that you minimize the environmental impact. If you missed Kelsey Abbott’s blog post on reducing packaging and waste, you can check it out here. Once you are aware of how damaging waste is to the environment, you can set the example for your friends, family and – if you remember my little story from the beginning – even complete strangers!

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