New Year’s Aftermath

This morning I woke up by the ear-battering sound of an air-blower in the street right in front  of the window.

“Of course”, I thought, “this is what you get”. When – after a short moment of acoustic peace – the street-cleaning car started patrolling, I knew it was time to get up and write a post.

Yesterday, New Year, is definitely the day of littering. The streets have in a very short time transformed from being jam-packed with Christmas lights to being blotched by left overs of fireworks and firecrackers. Now, while some people definitely like the former,  I can’t imagine anyone would find beauty in the latter.

According to the report entitled People Who Litter by the British ENCAMS, which is part of Keep Britain Tidy, “litter is ‘waste in the wrong place'”. The report analyses people’s attitude towards litter. According to the survey, “littering was deemed to be acceptable (by the British) when an individual’s sense of personal responsibility had been taken away – because everyone else was doing it (e.g. cinema, theatre, pop concert, football or rugby match, bowling alley), they were drunk, or the material that they were littering was bio-degradable.” Additionally, it is less acceptable to litter in places which are tidy but ok to leave your stuff lying around in areas which are already dirty.

The US counterpart to Keep Britain Tidy is Keep America Beautiful. They also publish reports and the following information is taken from the Litter Research 2009. There we can read that in the US “residential areas are 40% less littered than roadways in general”, so basically if I’m concerned about the litter in front of my house here in the Netherlands, I should check out non-residential areas? The most littered areas according to the report are close to convenience stores and commercial establishments. The good news is: “the actual count of overall litter is down by 61% since 1969” in the US, but wait, there is a downside: Plastic litter has increased by 165%” in the same timeframe.

What are the things we like to litter the most? According to the US study, 57% of cigarette buts are inproperly disposed. Which is a worldwide problem: 4.5 trillion non-biodegradable cigarette butts are littered worldwide”. Runner-ups in the US are food remnants, food wrapping and beverage cans. The above cited organizations all conduct campaigns against littering. Sometimes, laws might be more effective. Here are some examples from around the world taken from the Falkirk Council:

– Ireland has banned leaflets which are put under car windscreens in 2003.

– The famous case of chewing gum in Singapore: “The sale of chewing gum was banned in 1991 because it had disrupted the rail service and caused such a nuisance at cinemas and other public places. Since 2003 it has been possible to buy chewing gum; but only on prescription from a doctor or dentist.”

– Apparently, twelve people are employed in Zurich Airport, Switzerland just to scrap up the littered chewing gums. 240 is the total of staff cleaning the airport.

Do you think litter is a small problem? Maybe you will be convinced by money. Switzerland is considered to be a tidy an clean country. We learn from that the costs of cleaning the streets of the small country amount to 200 milion Swiss Franks annually (which is more or less the same as US$ at the moment). Similarly, in the US: the Litter Research says: “$11.5 billion are spent on abatement and clean-up activities each year, and this number probably underestimates the true costs.”

I feel it’s time our society changes its attitude towards littering. Don’t all mothers tell their kids when they are little that they have to clean up their mess? What about the fireworks, are we back at “everybody is doing it” with this one?

By the way, outside they are still cleaning.

Picture courtesy by, taken in nearby Amsterdam, thank you!


One thought on “New Year’s Aftermath

  1. I suspect our societies became more likely to litter first with the advent of motorized transportation, which allowed people to travel previously unthinkable distances on a daily basis. Every day people found themselves in places they worked or shopped, but did not call home – so felt little pride or responsibility for. At that time people were already accustomed to seeing horse waste in the street, so litter simply became another task for street sweepers. Second, the invention in the mid twentieth century of disposable convenience items meant to be used once then discarded. Examples of such single-use items included many forms of product packaging and wrappers, bags, and an abundance of frozen and processed foods. In the 1950s such things were hailed as miracles of modern science that made lives easier; what they did not envision was the indirect impact on the environment and health. Quick searches of the amount of disposable diapers in landfills or plastic bags in oceans present staggering figures.

    There are many efforts being made to reduce litter, such as cities banning plastic bags. But to have a real impact, it is not retailers but we consumers who need to change our habits. For example, reducing the amount of processed foods we buy will then reduce the amount of packaging we discard. Bringing reusable shopping bags on our visits to local private stores (all stores, not just grocery stores!) rather than shopping online can reduce the amount of product packaging and mailing-related waste. There are many things we can do as individuals, and hopefully other people watch and do the same.

    You are right about cigarette butts – they are full of toxins and found nearly everywhere. has some interesting information about the problem:

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