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The unacceptable impunity of the litterpigs

The unacceptable impunity  of the litterpigs
WE’VE RENDERED drunk driving morally repugnant. We’ve made cigarette smoking socially unacceptable.
It’s clearly time to set our sights on littering, which, for now at least, appears to be worsening rapidly. A feature piece inside reveals the astounding and disheartening reality that littering locally has increased more than 20 per cent in the past five years. Packaging is identified as the major culprit, especially fast food.


The issue is worldwide, of course, but for those parts of the planet with a brand dependent upon a relatively pristine natural environment as an important backdrop to a lucrative tourism industry, it’s particularly serious.

For instance, Scotland’s magnificent scenery and historical buildings attract between 14 and 17 million visitors annually, and Scotland’s tourism industry is currently worth about $20 billion annually—a figure projected to almost double by 2025—and certainly worth protecting.

And so, in recent years, the Scots have engaged in some pretty impressive analyses of the problems of street and highway littering, marine littering and illegal dump sites. The results:

  • The direct costs of enforcement and clean-up of litter in this nation of 5.3 million souls is estimated at $95 million annually.
  • Indirect costs of littering are estimated to be a further $45 million. (We’re using the Scottish numbers because we are unaware of any similar studies done here.)

The Scottish studies have also looked at the psychology of littering: who litters, and why do they do it?

Almost everyone litters apparently, at least occasionally. There are no demographic profiles of typical prolific litterers.

  • Young people litter more than their elders.
  • Men tend to litter slightly more than women.

Cigarette smokers not only dump millions of butts everywhere, they tend to litter more than most.

Other studies we unearthed tend to suggest enforcement and fines don’t work very well at all; and that appeals to people’s better nature only register with people who actually have a better nature and don’t litter much in the first place. Even the iconic weeping Indian in the old US public service television commercials failed miserably.

The most successful campaign undertaken anywhere to date appears to have been done in Texas (“Don’t Mess with Texas”) where macho male “sports hero” figures were used as the public face of the campaign and colourful eye-catching garbage receptacles were deployed in huge numbers everywhere.

But we’re not even out of the starting gate on this one.

~ Linda & Jim Gourlay
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