Increasing penalties won’t solve littering problem | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

A few years back, Royal Dutch Shell came out with the advertisement “Don’t Throw Anything Away. There Is No Away.”


Although the ad was severely criticized for being “misleading,” with some groups in the United Kingdom such as the Friends of the Earth even filing a complaint with the British Advertising Standards Authority, the idea is actually valid.


Annual flooding and devastating typhoons, like “Ondoy,” “Pablo” and “Yolanda,” have shown us that the waste we throw away has the nasty habit of coming back like a boomerang. Some of the things we mindlessly toss into bodies of water, for instance, may show up somewhere in the world—just as garbage from other countries end up on our shores, some even deliberately shipped to us, as the ongoing controversy over “imported” trash from Canada demonstrates.


There is really no “away” to speak of when it comes to trash.


So, it seems commendable that in the city of Manila, there is a proposal by councilors to raise the penalty for violations of the anti-littering ordinance. According to newspaper reports, principal proponent Marlon Lacson, majority floorleader, wants to increase the penalty from P20 to P200 for the first offense; P350 for the second; and P500 for succeeding offenses.


The city council, reports say, is even considering jail time for repeat offenders.


As an environmentalist, I should be welcoming this development without reservations. But between enacting an ordinance and effectively and efficiently implementing it is an ocean wider than the Pacific.


The city council can impose penalties in the thousands of pesos, but if nobody bothers to ensure that the ordinance is fully implemented, people will continue to ignore anti-littering rules. Just think of the no-smoking regulation and how it is blatantly ignored in Manila.


People also have to know and fully understand the reasons behind the ordinance.


Just a school subject


I live close to a Catholic school. Inside the campus are huge trash bins to allow for waste segregation. I see students diligently putting trash where it belongs while inside the campus.


But the moment they leave the school compound, all thoughts about proper waste disposal seem to vanish. They drop plastic wraps and empty containers of food and beverages on the sidewalk or street, or throw them out of jeepneys.


Adults—parents, guardians and nannies—do not seem to find this unacceptable, as they often are the first to dispose of litter anywhere and everywhere.


The way I see it, kids seem to think proper waste disposal and segregation are to be done only in school, topics to learn as part of the curriculum. Once they leave the campus, they can forget about them and toss their garbage anywhere convenient.


Success stories


The cities of Puerto Princesa and Davao have long had successful anti-littering drives. In fact visitors are warned, before a plane lands, that these cities have strict anti-littering rules.


I do not know what their local governments did in the early years of the implementation of the ordinances, but residents of both cities have learned the lesson well that it has become almost instinctive to dispose of garbage properly.


I was in Puerto Princesa once with a photographer friend. She was eating a fruit as we walked around the public market. She was about to drop the fruit’s peel and seeds into the ground when one of the vendors, without saying a word and without our asking her, quickly opened a plastic bag to catch the trash before it could fall.


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