Ten Cents Won’t Buy an Anti-Litter Culture
Ten Cents Won’t Buy an Anti-Litter Culture… not on its own.
Over the last six months in particular, litter has been making headlines with contention over litter reduction and recycling methodologies.
Litter is ugly, demoralising, unhealthy and an environmental disgrace. It’s a no-brainer that people shouldn’t do it. Following progress that came in leaps and bounds since recycling bins became a regular sight on Sydney streets in the 1980s and 1990s, trends are now lagging in terms of improvements regarding individual littering behaviour.
Several options are under discussion by politicians and environmental groups to address the issue. Should cash in hand for recycling be a factor? We wish that wasn’t the case.
If you pick up a child’s towel from the bathroom floor each time they shower, there will be a disregarded towel casually strewn in their wake every morning. Cleaning up after them might be a quick-fix solution to an untidy bathroom, but it doesn’t change the careless and messy child’s behaviour. Nor does passing the littering buck on to community groups, or kids looking to make some extra pocket money, upon whom falls the burden of picking up after litterers in public spaces.
Picking up the slack – and picking up the last of the unsightly cigarette butts, discarded paper and plastic detritus that make up over 50 per cent of the litter stream – requires behaviour change on a national societal scale to shift littering habits. It means doing the right thing for the right reasons, not for ten cents upon return.
Behaviour change will be achieved through campaigns to raise public awareness and vilify littering as the antisocial wrongdoing that it is, backed up by a rollout of ubiquitous, convenient recycling facilities for all recyclable products. Not through dollars – even though we expect they will be a part of it. It’s just sad that’s that how our modern society works.
One of the first Australian strategies to implement recycling was the Container Deposit Scheme in South Australia, introduced in 1977. The initiative was successful, for its time, taking beverage containers out of landfill and into recycling plants, in exchange for a 5 cent reward which was increased to 10 cents in 2008. Since then, movements such as the tremendously successful “Do The Right Thing” and “Don’t be a Tosser” campaigns throughout the last thirty years have replaced the need for financial incentive with the more effective and longer-lasting much needed awareness, education and ‘warm glow’ reward.
The challenge now is to take the good recycling practices that have already taken root in NSW households onto streets, parks and beaches. Extending recycling infrastructure into public spaces with a comprehensive network of public place recycling bins is the way to achieve this.
Despite having had a Container Deposit Scheme since 1977, South Australia is nowhere near the cleanest state in the country. It is Victoria that leads in the prevention of littering behaviour that is key to creating an anti-litter culture. Having achieved a reduction of almost 60% in litter over the past 8 years, Victoria’s approach – combining public awareness with convenient infrastructure – is working. Victoria is the lowest littered state in Australia.
Identifying litter hotspots and installing the appropriate bins – segregated for recyclable and non-recyclable items – capitalises on existing public opinion about littering. The right facilities remove the inconvenience factor in responsible waste disposal which leads to littered items tainting our living spaces.
Cynics might be relieved to see evidence that habits do not need the course of generations to become socially ingrained. Twenty years ago no one would have batted an eyelid to see someone walking their dog without a clean up after their pet availed themselves of public lawn space, simply kicking it into the gutter and walking on – until the 1980s and ‘90s saw a concerted push by local government to combat this. Public bag dispensers, products like clip-on poop bags, and council-issued penalties have seen almost all dog owners now picking up after their pets, because it’s the right thing to do and because of the stigma attached to leaving animal faeces in a public space.
Let’s say you’re out for the day, you buy a drink, finish it, and you are now stuck with an empty bottle. Consider the following:
Scenario one: You carry the empty bottle around for the rest of the day, taking it home (while ensuring you keep the barcode intact, otherwise the refund will be void), stockpile it in your spare bedroom, garage or backyard along with the other collected bottles, until you have enough to pile into the car, drive to the nearest collection depot and deposit for ten cent refund each. If you collected and deposited five bottles every day for a year, you could just about cover one week’s grocery bill. Of course the cost of the beverage containers would have to increase by about 20 cents to cover the refundable 10 cent deposit and the infrastructure and administration to operate the scheme, so in fact you’d be no better off.
Scenario Two: You walk about twenty metres to the nearest recycling bin and sustainably dispose of the bottle.
You’re either going to do the right thing, or you’re not, in which case you need to be taught to do so and you’ll need the convenient infrastructure to assist you in becoming a good non-littering citizen. You shouldn’t need a reward.
No one ever refunded ten cents for dog poo, and we won’t change the behaviour of litter offenders by picking up after them.
Cleaning up public spaces is noble, and recycling beverage containers is laudable. But these should be parts of the prevention, not a band-aid cure. A national recycling plan and bin network fits with social attitudes towards recycling in 2014, not 1977. It speaks to a future of better behaviour, socially entrenched and independent of financially incentivised cooperation. So let’s replicate the ubiquity and success of private property recycling with universally accessible recycling bins across the public spaces in which we live, work and play.
You shouldn’t do it for the money. You should do it because it’s the right thing to do.