For most motorists in urban areas driving around is becoming a nightmare as roads are heavily polluted by broken bottles. Often motorists have to negotiate their way around “minefields” of alcohol bottles that litter the city’s roads to avoid tyre punctures or damage. Pedestrians also deal with broken glass which are remnants of activities from the previous night. In fact, litter in general has increasingly become a worrisome issue as it causes the heavily polluted environment to become detrimental to its inhabitants.
Litter consists of waste products that have been disposed improperly, without consent, at an inappropriate location. It has impact on the environment and remains a serious environmental issue in many countries. Residents blame imbibers for causing most of the littering. They say they dump empty bottles in open spaces everywhere, thereby breaking city by-laws.
“I was trying to park at the centre parking near a bottle store and I just couldn’t get a parking spot which was glass-free. There was a dustbin close by but some people still chose to leave their empties in the middle of the road,” said Mlungisi Dube, a Bulawayo motorist.
He says besides being an eyesore, littered bottles are hazardous. “They’re not good for the environment and for the people’s safety. Imagine if one accidentally steps on broken glass, if it’s sharp enough, the person could end up with cuts and trying to deal with a problem that could’ve been avoided,” said Dube.
Besides polluting the environment, litter that remains uncollected for long periods of time may end up in water bodies.
Residents blame law enforcement agencies for failing to implement laws that are meant to protect the environment. They argue that while it remains the duty of diligent citizens to clean up the environment and avoid littering, the law enforcement agencies should maintain a presence and ensure every resident adheres to and respects all environmental laws.
“We’ve laws against public drinking but I don’t see them being enforced. The reason why there’s so much litter in the form of bottles is because there are loopholes in the enforcement of certain laws. I’m not saying imbibers are the only litter bugs. The littering of other objects is also a problem and this is primarily because people are irresponsible,” said Bongani Mlalazi, an environmental health practitioner.
Mlalazi says people nowadays are just irresponsible. He says people who deliberately litter streets ignoring rubbish bins are worse than animals.
“Surely we can’t expect council workers to be sweeping the streets 24/7. We need to be responsible and make sure we use bins which are provided. If there’s no bin nearby, you lose nothing by holding onto your litter until you find one,” he said. Experts have cited negligent or lenient law enforcement as a contributing factor to littering behaviour.
Other causes, they say, are inconvenience, entitlement and economic conditions. However, a recent survey found that the largest number of illegal dumps were in high-density areas which do not enjoy regular municipal refuse collection services. The same report also cites unavailability of roadside trash and recycling services, shortage of enforcement, and habit as possible causes.
“You can’t tell me that after a night of drinking, an afternoon later, the streets are still filthy. Council is also failing us. I’m not sure if they clean everyday but it appears like they don’t. Days later, you still find empty bottles and other forms of litter on the streets,” said Lisa Masuku, another Bulawayo resident.
She says although the city is generally cleaner than other parts of the country, there was room for improvement. “I feel like our streets can be cleaner than they are. All it takes is more effort and better co-ordination from our council,” said Masuku. Meanwhile, scholars have developed a two-stage process model of littering behaviour which describes the different ways in which people litter.
The theory has implications for understanding the different types of litter reduction interventions that will most effectively reduce littering in a given environment.
It states that, all things being equal, passive littering will be more resistant to change because of two psychological processes: the diffusion of responsibility that increases as the latency between when an individual places litter in the environment and when they vacate the territory, and forgetting, which is also more likely to occur at longer delays between when an individual places litter in the environment and when they vacate the territory.
Litter in general can have a detrimental impact on humans and the environment in different ways. Open containers such as paper cups, cardboard food packets, plastic drinks bottles and aluminum drinks cans may fill up with rainwater, providing breeding locations for mosquitoes.
In addition, a spark or a lightning flash can start a fire if it strikes litter such as a paper bag or cardboard box. Bulawayo City Council senior public relations officer Nesisa Mpofu said the city’s public health by-laws state that no person shall deposit tins, filth, packets, paper, plastic or any waste on any public space, road, verge, pavement, open space or undeveloped land.
“Liquor outlets are licensed by the Liquor Licensing Board in Harare using the Liquor Act and regulations made under it. The Liquor Act does not permit public drinking. No local authority has the capacity to clean up or monitor littering 24/7. Residents have to act responsibly and place waste in bins instead of littering,” said Mpofu.
She said Bulawayo public health by-laws state that no occupier of premises shall leave any refuse, rubbish or shop sweepings in the pavement, passage or stairway. “The by-laws can therefore be seen as obligating bottle stores to clean the pavements they operate from,” said Mpofu. Public waste containers or street bins are provided by local authorities to be used as a convenient place for the disposal and collection of litter.
Increasingly, both general waste and recycling options are provided. Local councils pick the waste up and take it to reuse or recycling. However, there are issues with this approach. If the bins are not regularly emptied, then overfilling of bins occurs and can increase litter indirectly.
Some local authorities will only take responsibility for rubbish that is placed in the bins, which means that litter remains a problem. People may blame a lack of well-placed bins for their littering. Some countries and local authorities have introduced legislation to address the problem.
Actions resulting in fines can include on-the-spot fines for individuals administered by authorised officers in public or on public transport or littering from a vehicle, in which the vehicle owner is fined – reported by either responsible officer or third party. In the United States, littering is punishable with a more than $500 fine, community service, or both, as set out by state statutes and city ordinances.
All 50 states have anti-litter laws. Most highways and national parks are punishable with $1,000 fine or one year in prison when there is serious damage. In some areas, the penalties for highway littering can be up to $10,000.