I am constantly asking myself: what makes people litter? And what will stop them from doing it?
Councils around New Zealand are starting to fine people for littering, which could be a key weapon in the arsenal against this antisocial and unhealthy practice.
I work for a charity that aims to change behaviour in regards to how we treat the environment. We focus on school students, because young people often haven't decided whether they can be bothered disposing of rubbish correctly. If you can explain to them the effects it can have - polluting the places they love and poisoning our food chain - they will usually make the right decision.
We also do lots of work with offenders on community work sentences, where we combine education with cleaning up the coast and sorting rubbish. Aside from being the perfect captive audience to get hard work done, we realised that such people frequently lack pride in their neighbourhoods, need some inspiration and are often short of cash - meaning they are more likely to rely on kaimoana to survive and engage when they know that it is being tainted by littering.
People who already love the beach and ocean - of which there are many here in New Zealand - will readily support looking after them more often than not and help to teach others too.
But some people and businesses, no matter what you tell them, will only change their ways if they are hit in the pocket.
Who should enforce littering rules?
Trying to enforce rubbish dumping is a huge challenge and unless offenders are stupid enough to dump bags with mail in them (which happens a lot), proving the offence can be very difficult.
The Auckland Council - who recently adopted a fine system across the region - allows citizen action. If you see rubbish escaping a vehicle you can ring 0800 INTHEBIN (0800 468 43246), report the key details and the perpetrator gets stung. If the ruling is challenged - which doesn't usually happen - and the reporter is willing to sign an affidavit then this is sufficient proof.
Now I hate getting a parking ticket as much as anyone and used to have an unfounded general disregard for the people who give out the fines, but The Wellington City Council investigated giving parking wardens the power to issue litter fines - who could form excellent troops to enforce littering rules. With wardens equipped with cameras now, photo evidence might be enough for an instant fine.
What you will owe when you throw
Wellington and Auckland have devised a scale for fines between $100 - $400, depending on what you have dumped. Thankfully, both have made disposable nappies - a product that I hate deeply - an example of the worst kind of littering.
If anyone out there has a good idea of how our communities' littering behaviour could be improved please let me know by emailing me or posting a comment below.