‘If Littering Was An Illness, We’d Have Epidemic’

August 11, 2015

[Opinion column written by Jeremy Deacon]

Let’s face it, we’ve all seen it. An arm appears out of the window of the car in front and suddenly a plastic bag, or bottle, is sent reeling into the air.

We’ve all taken a walk and seen the trash that builds up under the bushes – if you haven’t, I seriously suggest you do, it might change some habits or at least make you think twice.

If littering was an illness, Bermuda would have an epidemic on its hands. If it was an illness, it would be treated as such. Yet, we allow it to happen. We talk about cures, but we never dish out the medicine.

Public education in key and I know that groups such as Greenrock and KBB are doing a sterling job, but public education takes time, so what else should we do to stamp out a problem that undermines Bermuda’s reputation as a beautiful, pristine island?

Two things: enforcement and incentives.

Under the Waste and Litter Control Amendment Act 2011 [PDF], which amends the Waste and Litter Control Act 1987 [PDF] there is legislation which makes littering an offence, punishable by fines.

The 1987 Act says: “Control of public littering Subject to section 5, a person shall not throw away or discard any waste in a public place. A person who contravenes subsection [1] commits an offence.”

The amended Act talks of using an “approved recording device” means a device for recording sound or visual images, or both, approved by the Minister by notice published in the Gazette.

On reckless littering, it says “A person who, while in control of an auxiliary cycle, a motor cycle, a motor car or vessel, who recklessly causes or allows waste to be discarded from the auxiliary cycle, motor cycle, motor car or vessel, onto a public place, commits an offence against this Act.”

There are many case studies of local authorities setting up ‘Litter Police’ who stop litter bugs in the street and issue them with a fixed penalty notice, payable in court.

I would not advocate a private firm doing this, nor would I want to see litterbug hit squads hiding in doorways waiting for an unsuspecting victim, but why not a trial a part-time person working for the City of Hamilton? Perhaps the people driving those ‘traffic enforcement cars’ can be given extra authority?

It’s not a new idea – it’s been tried in places like Sydney, Australia, where a team looks for people dropping cigarette butts and Liverpool, in the UK – but why couldn’t it be tried here? If people are not prepared to change their habits, perhaps they should have someone making sure they do.

Now let’s go back to using an “approved recording device”. To me that means using CCTV, or mobile recording devices, which can be used to monitor problem dumping areas – you know, the ones you see along the Railway Trail.

Look at what CCTV cameras in Manchester, in the UK recorded. We are told that we have a state-of-the-art CCTV system in Bermuda, why not use it for this purpose as well?

Mobile cameras are also dirt cheap, why not use them? They do not have to be monitored 24/7, they just need to be able to record for a period of time before the footage is checked and the battery recharged.

We seem to have a theme for virtually every month in Bermuda, why not have a Litter Enforcement Month to kick-off Litter Police and CCTV initiatives?

In other countries, a tax on plastic bags has worked well. Last year, the UK Government announced that shoppers in England would have to pay five pence [about seven cents]. This is how it was reported by the BBC.

A five pence charge had already been introduced in Wales where supermarkets said they had seen a 96 percent reduction in the number of plastic bags being used. There was also a marked increase the number of shoppers using their own bags.

In Bermuda, a petition by Greenrock asking people to back a fee for disposable bags met with a predictably disappointing result. A report at the time quoted then Greenrock President Judith Lansberg as saying, “We believe the Government should act on this for moral end economic reasons.”

Totally agree, Judith.

As for incentives? Well a Bottle Bill has been mooted for years, but has never made any progress. My fellow columnist and blogger Jonathan Starling raised the issue in 2013 in a column on Bernews.

According to Bottle Bill Resource Guide “Advocates of deposit systems have historically pointed to the environmental benefits of bottle bills including litter reduction and energy and resource conservation.

“In recent years they have also emphasized the waste diversion and job creation benefits of bottle bills. They further argue that bottle bills shift the costs of litter cleanup, recycling, and waste disposal from government and taxpayers to producers and consumers of beverage containers.”

I am sure it is the latter that has helped stall the introduction of a Bottle Bill, but why doesn’t the Minister with responsibility for the environment get all those involved around the table and thrash out a plan?

Bermuda so often seems to lack an environmental conscience and I know full well that there will be those who will call me a tree-hugger, so what? But imagine if all the revenue from that tree hugging was ring-fenced for community projects? How much better would Bermuda be?

What do you think? Leave a comment or email jdeacon@northrock.bm.

- Jeremy Deacon is a 30-year veteran of the media industry and currently runs public relations company Deep Blue Communications. He also freelances for publications in Bermuda and overseas.

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Comments (42)

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  1. PBanks says:

    Litter is a big problem here, yet we hardly hear about issues unless it’s a case of major illegal dumping. We ought to do much better on this topic.

  2. Justin says:

    Funny how the Canadians can celebrate Canada Day at Warwick Long Bay and leave no trash behind. On the other hand, take a look at Horseshoe Bay after Beach Fest and look at the mess people leave behind. Bermudians have the nerve to talk about foreigners, but it appears that the foreigners take better care of our island than we do!

    • hmmm says:

      We need to teach our kids to take a few steps and put it in the trash, if they don’t then pin it to them using safety pins. They have to wear it, (if bottle) carry it for a week. A week is nothing in terms of the amount of time the island has to wear their trash.

      They’ll soon learn.

      • eXpat says:

        I like this suggestion … might try it out

      • Jennifer Flood says:

        Not sure that the children are the problem – unless there’s an awful lot of kids out there smoking cigarettes, drinking beer and spirits, eating take out, leaving infants diapers and condoms …. seems to me its more like the adults that need a little carrot and stick!!

    • Paul Revere says:

      Guess you didn’t see the litter left behind by foreigners at a south shore beach about 2 weeks ago. always ready to glorify foreigners while belittling Bermudians.
      years ago John Swans Bank and Bank of Bermuda used to hand out little plastic bags that would hang inside ones vehicle for trash.
      Why is it that people find a need to flick their cigarette butts out the window? Is it because cars no longer have ash trays?
      Maybe we should fill up the courts with loads of people littering, by spending lots of money having to do DNA tests to prove that it was your cigarette on the street and not someone’s else’s.
      Maybe just maybe people would take a lil responsibility and do the right thing.

    • Onion Soup says:

      When visiting large Canadian cities (Montreal and Toronto), I’ve always been very impressed with the cleanliness of their streets and how “house proud” residents are…very little, if any, litter anywhere and both private and public properties kept so tidy and well-maintained, even in so-called “questionable” neighborhoods. There are rubbish bins everywhere and people use them! Bermuda is getting messier and messier with every passing year and it’s shameful.

  3. Toodle-oo says:

    The litter problem here is serious and has been for decades. However , it seems as though an awful lot of people must have litter eliminating blinders on as they love to keep erroneously referring to Bermuda as a pristine paradise.

    I’ve been to many places in the US ( you know , that filthy place )where you can drive for 20 miles without seeing the tiniest piece of trash on the roadside but here you can’t go twenty feet without seeing trash and litter.

    You say ‘we allow it’ , but that’s not entirely true . If one does catch someone in the act of being a careless pig and you speak up ,as I have in the past , you’re met with a most nasty and unpleasant response , usually ending with the very old retort that it gives someone else a job. Some mentality , eh ?

    As for a bottle bill . When I was growing up there was one and the kids made a lot of pocket change collecting and recycling bottles but with how things are now in this technology driven age and the possible cost overall of doing it I’m not sure if it would be as effective as one might think .

    • Lady Bug says:

      The worst is the End to End. The amount of littering and careless littering that happens. Every effort is made to put out waste bins for this and if anything, you’re never that far from the next one that you can’t hold it.

      But I too spoke up during the Middle to End and oh my, this girl and her friend had no respect for our beautiful Island we were all out enjoying that day and carelessly in front of others tossed her bottle and trash into the bushes. When I said ‘Excuse me’ (politely none the less because it is a touch subject with the entitled youth) it was returned with a very guilty and nasty response but still had no shame.

      What are parents teaching kids now-a-days that they can’t even care for their beautiful island home?! We live in paradise – treat it like one. Especially for the one day of the year so many are out walking and admiring it!!!!

  4. Guy Smiley says:

    The number of ppl that litter here is disgusting. People eat something in their car then feel like the trash is toxic or something so out the window it goes. What? Cig butts going out kills me too (and the ashes! Keep that in your vehicle, especially if there’s a bike behind you!).
    IMO those litterers have no pride in our island and what it looks like. No shame.
    Of course the people littering are not the same people helping KBB on their cleanups either…

  5. Triangle Drifter says:

    As the screen name suggests, I get around. Across the US & Canada anti littlering signs are everywhere. Most states have automatic &500 fines. Some have $1000 fines. Most must be serious about enforcement because for the most part highway shoulders & medians are litter free. Most states use road gangs of either prisoners or the litterers themselves to pick up whatever is in the grass before the DOT mowers come along.

    Same could be done here. The problem is enforcement. When was the last time anyone was hauled before the court & given a MEANINGFUL penalty for littering?

    • James Rego says:

      When was the last time anyone was hauled before the court & given a MEANINGFUL penalty for littering?

      I was driving behind a cyclist drinking out of a paper bag (earlier this year) who promptly tossed the empty into the roadside hedge. I coppied his licence plate number, time and a description of the perp, went back and collected his trash. I turned it in to the police. You could see the expression on their faces like “what do you expect me to do with this”? I have yet to hear back from the Police regarding the up coming court case or any mention of the crime being reported.

  6. Kim Smith says:

    I just don’t understand it. How hard is it to take litter home with you or find one of the many trashcans that are provided around and about to dispose of your trash? As for the larger-scale illegal dumping, well, that’s partly scam and partly a protest about the dumping fees. That will require some intervention to identify the perpetrators. I know we can all do better… if we just realise that we are doing harm to our own selves… and that’s just dumb.

  7. Carol says:

    I totally agree Jeremy, weekly I collect bottles and cans from my garden. I live on a private estate road so who is throwing this litter? Absolutely no respect for themselves, the Island or anyone else.

  8. real talk says:

    Get the prisoners and dead beat fathers and mothers to clean it up.And change laws to make anyone caught littering have to do 50 hours cleaning the roads and bushes.

  9. Accurate says:

    When I was a youngster we used to collect ‘mineral bottles’ and return to the store to make enough for a ‘nu-grape & a cadbury’. Those were the days!

    • JCS says:

      I remember that too. In our family you didn’t get an allowance unless you did something. I made sixpence for polishing my dad’s shoes! So the only way to make extra money was on bottles. Oh my, Nu-Grape does take me back.

  10. PBanks says:

    On the surface, bringing back a Bottle Bill can’t hurt. Maybe we need to see specifics on how it would work (e.g. how much per bottle is a decent offer, as well as knowing with places one could return bottles – I imagine grocery stores could provide a facility), but if we could get the public to buy into that scheme it would reduce a good chunk of the trash thrown into bushes or in the ocean.

  11. Jeremy Deacon says:

    Thanks for all the feedback.

  12. Davie Kerr says:

    I (and I suspect many others) was brought up on the principle of “You bring it, you bin it”. What was wrong with that? Nothing: absolutely nothing.

  13. aceboy says:

    On Friday morning of Cup Match I walked up from Albouys Point to the 24 hour gas station. Some jokers had eaten some take out and simply left their trash and leftovers on the bench they had been sitting on to eat outside Butterfield Bank. Trash can was less than 20 feet away. Lazy disgusting behaviour. I threw it all away for whomever it was….you are welcome you jerks.

    I agree with this article. Littering has gotten completely out of control.

  14. I also support a bottle / cans bill. I further believe we,(yes we, Bermudians) are our own worse enemies! I would also suggest the W&E collect the roadside and public parks rubbish bins garbage prior to them overflowing.
    There are countless people who can’t pay court fines but can contribute time in exchange for the monies they owe they can help collect the garbage… A paid driver and an individual who didn’t have the funds to pay their fine/s, can now be able to stay out of prison and work off their debt/s. This is a win – win situation for them as well as for the Taxpayers

    • Jeremy Deacon says:

      Good idea – community service: pick up trash

  15. well at less says:

    Littering in Bermuda is no where near the level in the USA. Littering in USA is off the charts. I think a lot of the litter in Bermuda comes from storm debris that never got cleaned up. you never see any thing floating in the water in Bermuda be cause there are trash filter areas that collect the trash “naturally” all we have to do is col let the trash from those areas when they fill up.

    • Jeremy Deacon says:

      An awful lot of the litter in Bermuda is found under the bushes and by the roads – that is not from storms….

    • Russ says:

      The littering in the U.S. is directly related to the area. Inner cities are in fact filthy. The suburbs and rural areas do not have this problem.

      This is another situation where profiling would work and kudos to the person who reported the litterer to the police – shame on the police for not responding. The law is the law – enforce it or find a new line of work.

    • Billy Mays says:

      You are factually incorrect in every single assertion that you make here. “Trash filter areas that collect the trash ‘naturally’”? You must be kidding. It’s called the ocean, and it’s not a filter. Pick up your waste.

  16. Jennifer Flood says:

    Not sure about the rest of the Island, but after Cup Match, Pontoons was simply awful – before it had been clean with only the occasional bit of garbage and water borne waste around – when the campers finally left (up to a week later) plastic cups and utensils, cans, bottles, clothing, broken chairs and other furniture, discarded tent fixtures, fishing line, charcoals and ash dumped on the grass; one camp site left a commode!!!!!, fish net – in the water, dirty cooking utensils, pans – and all this I saw from a quick and horrified walk through the Park. My hearfelt sympathy to the Parks workers who have to deal with all this unpleasantness. Possible solutions – big public education campaign with photos of offending areas, have all our MP’s involved showing how they recycle, dispose of trash etc, give reasons for being clean, penalties for not. Camping – ALL campers at ALL times have to have a permit and leave a deposit. Campers are checked regularly (maybe employ Regiment Personnel to help with this??) those in contravention of regulations lose their deposit. Serious contravention and refusal to clean up – court. I also want to thank KBB and Ocean Explorers for the huge amount of work they do to clean up our Island – land and water.

    • Jeremy Deacon says:

      Not a bad idea – second some members of the Regiment?

    • Triangle Drifter says:

      Very easy to deal with the slobs in tents. Along with the camping fee, which is next to nothing, take a credit or debit card number & put an authorised hold of at least $500 on it. If the camp area is left a mess the charge is put through to cover cleanup. If the area is left clean the hold is released.

      The onus is on the camping permit holder to leave their camp site as they found it. Clean.

      This is the way it is done in many US state park campgrounds. It works. Been to many state park campgrounds & seeing anything more than the odd scrap of trash is rare.

      Bermudians prove themselves time after time of being thoughtless slobs when it comes to public property. Hit them in the wallet for their disrespect for their Island.

  17. little girl says:

    I recently saw a young girl about 14 on Parsons road throw a chocolate wrapper onto the pavement. I pulled up and asked her if she felt that was the place for it and asked why was she littering her beautiful home. She looked at me shrugged her shoulders and walked off. We must educate our children, if it doesnt start at home then we must push it in the schools.

  18. Shpanky says:

    certain people here (ahem) are too lazy to ever go to the dump, they would rather toss whatever trash they have:

    a) in the bushes, anywhere
    b) on someone’s private property
    c) on the side of the road
    d) in a public park on the ground or in bushes
    e) in a parking lot

    ect

    These people are notorious for disposing of any old appliances in the same manner od utter disregard. This includes large appliances like washers, dryers, fridges, deep freezes, etc.

    For some people, the environment and nature is lame and does not matter, it is for the other people to fix.

    These people who toss their trash are disgusting and pathetic and should go somewhere else and pollute their nation. I am tired of watching these lazy people change their baby’s diapers and toss that poo-filled thing out their car window in broad daylight. Just utter pathetic laziness. We all know who these people are. But are we man enough to admit it?

  19. Google says:

    I love how these lazy people have the nerve to stick duct tape on sidewalks and spray paint their lazy family names on the sidewalks and walls for the almighty parades we have, and yet these lazy people are just too darn lazy to remove the tape and paint after!

    Can you get ANY LAZIER?!?!?!

    You wonder why some people have negative opinions about others?!?!?!? really!?!?!?!

    You people have no shame and no sense of cleanliness or island pride! Get off our island if you cannot respect it!

  20. BDA Panic says:

    KBB and Bermuda in general has done wonders with keeping Bermuda Beautiful and clean. If you visit our sister islands in the Caribbean and get off the beach their islands are a disgrace and the local population down there really has no respect for keeping their island clean. KBB has done a terrific job for god knows how long in promoting the whole concept of putting trash where it belongs, picking up trash, marine clean up days, etc….. It is the minor few who have no regard or respect for the islands environment or beauty-do you blame it on education-I don’t think so b/c when I did my 15 years of schooling here in Bermuda KBB was always there and as students we were made aware. I think it is the minor few who just don’t care and they have to be called out on it and embarrassed publically -hopefully they will learn and put their trash where it belongs

  21. Shari-Lynn Pringle says:

    “If littering was an illness, Bermuda would have an epidemic on its hands. If it was an illness, it would be treated as such. Yet, we allow it to happen. We talk about cures, but we never dish out the medicine.”

    Yup. And we continue to expect our island to miraculously clean itself while importing persons who don’t have a care in the world for the environment or litter problem in their own country, so why should they care in Bermuda. And as is typically Bermudian, we adapt the bad habits of others before instilling our good habits. Yes – education and enforcement. But if we are serious, we need to appoint a Litter Czar of sorts and it has to be a paid position and not dependent upon hand outs and volunteers. There are several Govt departments that could get together to fund one or two people but we’ll just keep sweeping this issue under the rug. A personal pet peeve and why I hate walking during daylight hours. It is absolutely horrible out there!

    • stunned... says:

      you are absolutely correct. not all of the littering is done by uncaring Bermudians. there are nationalities here that do not know any better. where i live there is a high incidence of trash in the trees, on the side of the road and coincidentally, a high incidence of lower income guest workers.

      education is the key. the message that littering is frowned upon and not tolerated should have a higher profile. there is nothing wrong with KBB volunteers handing out leaflets at the airport, on our roads, especially at large roadside events – urging people to clean up after themselves.

  22. Vamos says:

    The stretch of road by Coral Beach on South Shore road is a disaster zone! You would think that maybe the hotel there would get involved.

  23. stunned... says:

    it sucks how the trash collectors(?) are part of the problem. there is so much debris in my neighborhood AFTER the trash truck come through. i’m told that the collectors don’t feel it is part of their job to pick up after themselves and that it’s the fault of the residents for not using a prescribed bag. would the minister of watching and earning (W&E) kindly address this please.

    • Sara says:

      Sorry, they can’t even pick up our trash on the trash day! You expect them to do anymore???

  24. stunned... says:

    i just wish the signage for littering could be less politically correct. i’d like to see: “Don’t be a dirtbag”, “Proud Bermudians keep keep a clean country”, “You brought it, you take it”, “Littering sucks”, “Respect yourself, respect your country”, “Keep Bermuda clean and tidy”, “If you see something, do something”…damnit!

  25. Sara says:

    If you can throw litter out and not care that is a direct reflection of the kind of person you are. Selfish and uneducated period. No excuses please.

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