What is the most effective approach to address the issue of litterbugs?

By Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye, Chairman Alliance For A Safe Community


KOTA KINABALU: Litterbugs are indeed a thorn in the side of every community. They pose significant health hazards and environmental risks.

Litter eventually flows into parks, rivers, and oceans, harming wildlife and disrupting ecosystems.

Almost on a daily basis, we see litterbugs throwing rubbish discriminately: smokers fling cigarette butts out of car windows, and children discard sweet wrappers and other litter out of moving school buses.

Recently, social media was flooded with pictures showing heaps of rubbish scattered on the side of the road near the Pahang-Kelantan border, presumably thrown by irresponsible motorists who do not want to keep the trash in their vehicles until they arrive home.

Such an irresponsible act showed a lack of civic-mindedness and a blatant act of littering in public.

Imposing fines alone will not work. And giving them discounts, as has been the practice previously, only exacerbates the problem. Fines are never a deterrent for habitual litterbugs. Some do not even bother to pay the fines.

For these litterbugs, the best is to make them do community service, like picking up
the litter, cleaning the drains, and sweeping public places in full view of the public.

Shaming them in public is a form of deterrence.

Now that the Housing and Local Government Ministry has ordered all local authorities to be strict in their enforcement against litterbugs, these local authorities should beef up their respective legislation and by-laws to provide for community service to be meted out against the litterbugs.

Another important step will be to educate the young. Many children litter out of ignorance or habit rather than malice.

They should be taught the importance of proper waste disposal and the consequences of littering.

These could include school projects and be an adjunct to all other school activities.

In the past, there have been anti-litter campaigns, but they have not produced the desired results.

We can take a cue from the Japanese. I have been told how patrons at fast food restaurants do not wait for the waiters to wipe and clean their tables after their meals. They do it themselves.

Littering has become part of Japanese culture. Most people there either take their rubbish home or dispose of it into bins—separate bins for paper, glass, and plastics.

While we can emulate the Japanese recycling methods, let us also review, reflect, and revise our habits for a safer and healthier community.

Let us begin by embracing the simple yet powerful act of refraining from littering in all public places and taking the trash home. Make it a habit of keeping a small bin or container in our vehicles to keep any trash and dispose of it at appropriate places.

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