As I did with Alex's last post "Reality stranger than fiction", I will present this unedited other than resolving a couple of hyperlinks. I will then offer a rounding out comment.
|Litter at Cottesloe Beach, Western Australia. Source WA Today|
Victoria recently released its 2012-2014 Litter Strategy, with a goal of reducing "littering behaviours" by 25%. But is this the right approach to fixing the problem?
The Victorian approach broadly follows the approach taken by all states, where educating the public, increasing litter fines (to painful levels) and providing more bins and monitoring at littering/dumping hot spots is the solution.
Such solutions begin with an assumption – that people cause littering and so we should target people to fix the problem. Then all we have to do is get everyone to behave perfectly, and litter stops. This is a punitive approach to littering.
An interesting analogue can be drawn here to the legal system, which for years sought to prevent crime via the threat of incarceration or hefty fines. But when a large amount of data became available for analysis, soon legal minds found that these punishments had no effect on the levels of crime.
Rather, crime was primarily caused by a range of social factors including inequality, lack of opportunity, childhood trauma and being around others involved in illegal activity.
In other words, the causes of crime were found to be more social than personal, and prevention rather than punishment was more effective in reducing the problem. This modern approach assumes society is the problem and people involved in crime are the symptom.
If we were to apply the same approach to litter, then waste is the problem and people littering are the symptom. So to reduce litter, we need to reduce waste, particularly bulk disposable packaging and particularly at littering hotspots like beaches, shopping centres and railway stations.
An example could be a state-wide strategy to encourage and engage large producers of disposable waste (like shopping centre food courts and fast food restaurants) to use less disposable materials, while creating integration between disposable materials and disposal systems to optimise source separation.
This philosophy is notably absent from the Victorian Waste Strategy or any state littering strategy I have seen. Further, is there any link between education and action? Leading experts in behaviour change like Doug McKenzie-Mohr have highlighted that there is much more to changing behaviour than providing information.
So to my mind, the first two tiers of the Victorian Litter Strategy (education and enforcement) will likely have a limited effect on the problem. The third tier, increasing access to public place bins, I do agree with.
However, this must be coupled with a concerted effort to reduce waste where littering is most likely to occur. Secondly, public place access to disposal and recycling bins must be lifted from its current low levels. We could also make an effort to make public place recycling more fun:
Finally, we have to accept that some littering is inevitable. Therefore, an effort should be made to substitute biodegradable materials where possible (such as the use of biodegradable plastics in liquid paper board cups), which in turn will reduce the amount of time litter remains in the environment.
I acknowledge the use of biodegradable materials may reduce or contaminate recycling volumes. However, many public places have few or no recycling facilities, and where they are available steams often become so contaminated they get sent to landfill.
If we are to retain a punitive approach to litter prevention, then the least we could do is make sure the funds from litter fines are invested into better public place disposal and recycling services.
My two bob worth
I have no quarrel or substantive comment on what Alex writes, other than to note that there is a significant role for inventiveness and creativity. One such approach is Litterati with its "digital landfill". The idea is simple, and I'll let them describe:
The Digital Landfill is a photo gallery showcasing the different pieces of litter being picked up, and the overall impact of the movement. With geo-tagging, we're able to provide insight into problem areas and highlight the most active Litterati communities. Keyword tags on the photos help identify those brands and products that generate the most litter. We'll use this to work with companies and organizations to find environmentally friendly and sustainable solutions.