The paper agreed to consider my 725 words, which I delivered on September 8, 2014. Then silence. No response to my follow-up by email and phone. No ‘yes’, no ‘no’, no ’maybe’. No feedback, only cold silence.
I wish I knew how to interpret The Star’s failure to respond. If I ever get a reply from the Op-Ed editor I will be able to shed light on The Star’s reason for ignoring this column. The paper’s silence leaves me to speculate forever. You be the Editor. Here is my submission:
Littering is the neglected orphan of social ills, the unbridled hellion spinning out of control, suffering from abject lack of attention. It’s time Ontario took custody of the litter issue and treated it as a crime, not an inconvenience. This province last looked at littering in 1977 when then-premier Bill Davis initiated the Litter Control Commission.
Eyes don’t lie: a litter review is overdue. Unfortunately, Premier Kathleen Wynne, environment ministers, stewardship agencies, even Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner have said it’s not their job. They slough off the matter to municipalities.
According to laws governing Ontario recycling, litter is not “end-of-life waste” whose disposal is funded from the Blue Box. Brand-makers are obligated to pay only for waste that lands in a bin. People who litter and don’t recycle are a burden on taxpayers. They also miss the opportunity to turn captured waste into cash. Even cigarette butts can be recycled for money these days.
While the rest of the world – from the British Parliament to the EU, America to Zimbabwe – tackles litter as a serious offense, Ontario rolls over and plays dead, deaf and dumb.
An estimated 250,000 visitors will be coming to Ontario in July for the Toronto 2015 PanAm Games. Statistically one-third of them will litter while they are here. Who will pick up the tab for that? How can we prevent the littering in the first place?
This province could borrow from the playbook of Scotland, recent host of the Commonwealth Summer Games in Glasgow. Woven into Scotland’s bid was a pledge to create a litter-free nation as part of the Games legacy. Environment cabinet secretary Richard Lochhead’s announcement in November 2012 led to an outcropping of initiatives that went beyond local clean-ups to include conferences, strategy papers, corporate involvement, permanent infrastructure such as Zero Waste Scotland and financial support for litter prevention, local education and the enforcement of littering laws.
An anti-social behaviour and a sign of low self-esteem, littering is a scourge with multi-faceted downsides. Criminologist Nic Groombridge, senior lecturer at London’s St. Mary’s University College, specializes in “green crimes”. He calls littering a “gateway crime”, the entry level to a hierarchy of unlawful behaviours, such as vandalism, graffiti, spitting, urinating or defecating in public, failing to clean up after one’s dog.
The presence of litter kills wildlife, reduces property values, affects tourism, clogs drains in times of heavy rains and floods, attracts rats and marauding seagulls, signals neglect and breeds crime.
Not littering is the easiest single action a person can take for the greatest good of a community and the environment.
In an attitudes survey released Sept. 3, British Columbians (94%) and Albertans (92%) told polling firm Insights West that littering upset them most out of a list of 14 illegal behaviours such as dog fouling and marijuana smoking.
Ontario’s unhelpful silence and inaction conveys a tacit acceptance of littering, which in Toronto supposedly carries a $365 fine.
Manitoba has markedly reduced litter by letting the Canadian beverage industry fund away-from-home recycling bins across the province.
This month London, England and the non-profit Keep Britain Tidy unrolled eye-arresting, giant cigarette butt props for a promotional campaign telling smokers that flicking is littering and draws an on-the-spot fine or court implications. Australia just wrapped up its annual Keep Australia Beautiful Week and launched “Butt It and Bin It”. Florida inaugurated the multi-million-dollar “Drive It Home” Roadside Litter Education Program this year using billboards, PSAs and sports celebrities to promote it.
Irish Businesses Against Litter (IBAL) never lets up on its quest for clean. A longstanding Gum Litter Task Force, a hybrid of government, business, community partners and the chewing gum industry works at stopping insidious gum litter. IBAL sponsors a National Litter Index annually. Towns and cities in Ireland compete all year to see who can be the tidiest. (Ditto, Australia.)
Measurable reductions are being achieved where litter reduction strategies exist, not just clean-up and well-maintained bins, but education, awareness and consequences. Ironically, Canadian cities beg Keep America Beautiful for funding help.
Research shows that talking concertedly about littering helps to propel the necessary structural and cultural shifts. Eighty-eight per cent of litterers will take corrective action if someone talks to them about it.
The Ontario government and most corporations avoid the litter conversation and do a poor job of standard setting. They should take a kick at that can. - Sheila White