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Questions About Litter

A post on the This Magazine blog about Toronto's newish anti-litter campaign asks some questions:

It’s ad campaigns like this that make me truly discouraged about the state of affairs in our society. “Don’t litter” is one of the first lessons my mom taught me about 25 years ago. Are people so rude and inconsiderate that we need a whole campaign to prevent the most basic abuse of our environment? If so, what hope do we have to attack the really big pollution problems we have caused on our planet?

The advertising campaign seems to be based on the premise that there are many people littering -- people who can be encouraged to change their behaviour. But I don't know if this is the right model for the litter problem, or what kind of research has been done to prove it. Someone needs to do some observation.

Other than smokers, I very rarely see anyone intentionally littering. I wonder how much of the crap around town is there for some other reason, such as falling out of overflowing garbage cans and blowing away. Has the volume of litter changed relative to the volume of garbage, or are we just swamped with much more junk in all aspects of our lives... a certain percentage of which falls into the wrong place?

Am I just naive, living and working in a particularly considerate neighbourhood? Are there really a lot more people out there who think it is okay to throw garbage on the sidewalk? I see the occasional idiot, but I don't get the sense that there are enough idiots out there to be responsible for the decline in cleanliness.

Toronto had a litter audit in 2004 and counted large pieces of litter. Six categories produced 79% of the junk (link PDF):

  1. Paper, Napkins, Printed Material, 38.6%
  2. Plastic packaging, wraps, 12.7%
  3. Confections, gum, candy packaging, 9.1%
  4. Tobacco packaging, 8.8%
  5. Cups and lids, 5.2%
  6. Beverage containers, 4.1%

It is mainly assorted crap for people to consume on the go... take-out coffee, fast food, cigarettes, candy, free newspapers.

The city has a 5-year goal to reduce litter on the streets by 50% (link PDF). Among other things, they are adding bins (only some of which are crap) and increasing litter collection and street cleaning. However, I don't see much in the plan aimed at reducing the sources of garbage... mainly (I assume) because the City has little power in that area.

But the fine for littering idiots is $305... if they ever catch any.

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