Littering in Public places: A local Challenge

Let us go on an imaginary trip to Mount Fuji in Japan, the natural sanctuary not visited nor conquered by man, until the recent time at least. Imagine the beautiful scenery, the virgin nature, and the staggering cherry trees. Imagine the lazy river passing just beneath your feet, imagine closing your eyes to the sun setting over the snow glazed mountain giving you this self-calming view. Imagine closing your eyes to all of this, for a moment just to take it all in, open your eyes again, and the tragedy: You see litter all over!

Littering is the act of throwing all kinds of waste and trash where it does not belong. This action is seen to be occurring on daily basis in the following forms:

  1. Pedestrians throwing waste on the streets.
  2. People in auto mobiles throwing wastes on the road.
  3. Non-monitored dumps.
  4. Uncovered loads.
  5. People at leisure.
  6. Entertainment events.

Of course, the list goes on and on.

Now for the effects part:

  1. A minimum of 5 Bn SAR per year in cleaning cost¹( Keep Britain tidy campaign by Eunomia Research and consulting Ltd. )
  2. Litter attracts rodents bearing diseases which pose a real threat to passers and people living in that vicinity.
  3. Litter poisons the environment. It poisons the water supply, distorts the animal food chain, and ultimately causes severe illness in humans.

Obviously the above is just a specimen of the wide array of effects of littering.

The mode of occurrence and the effects mode are in a way common regardless of the geographical area where littering occurs. However, the solution part varies greatly. Conventional solutions are somewhat old dated and personally are not my favorite at all. I believe in unconventional or shall I say revolutionary solutions especially given our Saudi scope of interest. Conventional methods include but are not limited to:

  1. Awareness campaigns addressing the people as a whole. An example would be the billboards we see on streets urging everyone not to litter.
  2. Fines imposed by municipalities for violators of the non-litter regulations.

These methods are necessary but will not get to the target of a free litter community, especially in our local community. The challenges are unlimited. There are over 10 million expats in Saudi Arabia with different backgrounds on the issue, most of whom are not familiar with non-litter mindset nor regulations. A part of the native community itself still views littering as not so problematic. I once approached a citizen after he opened his car door and voluntarily threw two plastic bottles out of his car. I confronted him demanding he throws them into the recycle bin. The man was furious and left angry. Research shows in such situations, one is better off removing the litter himself/herself and having the perpetrator see that. This sends a much stronger message while avoiding any confrontation. This is one of the unconventional tackles of dealing with such situations. Another unconventional way with a wider effect is having campaigns targeting people on a more personal level. Campaigns for smokers who litter, for motorcyclists, for students, for government employees..etc accompanied with incentives for good behavior( employee of the month recognition is one example). For expats who are mostly workers spending most of their time on the road, a reward system might be the savior. If an expat is seen facilitating the non-litter policy by always carrying a litter bag with them, they get a discount on their Iqama fees for instance. These methods among others found online and offline are quite effective. However, I still believe that the real solution to this problem is a matter of one’s mindset. First, you need to adopt and completely believe in the litter free mindset, then you need to infect everyone around you with it. Indeed, let it become contagious. Set an example for others in your vicinity and make them look like outsiders if they litter. It needs time, but you can make it happen!

Norman Vincent Peale said, ” Change your thoughts and you change your world”. If we authentically and whole heartedly adopt the litter free mindset, we will be able to make this concept contagious and then the sky is the limit. Littering is a true disaster in our Saudi community feeding on our pockets, our health, and our future. Unconventional solutions along with conventional ones will dramatically decrease littering and are in conformity with the “vibrant society” section of the National transformation plan. A litter future awaits, the decision is yours, what are you going to do about it?!


¹ An estimate based on UK average.

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