On 2 January I went to the beach with my neighbour. He’s an avid surfer and came knocking on my door first thing to join him for the day. To give some background, my plan had originally been to go to the beach on 1 January, but in the coastal areas of South Africa, that is one of the few days of the year that it seems everyone and their friend is at the beach. Thousands of people descend upon the beach, making traffic and finding parking and a little spot on the beach a veritable nightmare. So postponing this outing for one day seemed reasonable.
We arrived at the beach before 9am and there were already quite a lot of people packing out their gear and refreshments for the day. Gazebos, umbrellas, cooler boxes and picnic baskets abounded. Given that it was a public holiday, it wasn’t such a big surprise. What did catch me off guard was the amount of litter lying around from the previous day’s festivities. Doing a quick little “forensic” analysis, I came to the conclusion that there had been so many people at the beach on the first, that there were some who even sat on the pavement, and some even on the opposite side of the main beach road. Strand beach is not a small beach – it is long and wide for most of the tide’s ebb and flow. The beach must have been heaving!
Soon after our arrival, the municipal cleaners arrived. They were equipped with blue refuse bags, gloves and rakes. At some stage a few members of the public started helping them, but by and large, those who were there for the new day just continued littering.
As an aside. The standard response of “at least it’s job creation” doesn’t really fly with me. Certainly we can apply our municipal funds in a better way?
I know this is not a unique problem to South Africa, but still was horrified by what I saw. It seemed to me that there was an obvious educational gap that was not being addressed. And believe me, I saw that littering has little to do with race or social status. So, how to solve a problem that is so ingrained and seems so huge and just well … impossible to solve? When I was a child, there were strong campaigns addressing littering. They were positive and relevant (Who does not remember Zibi, the ostrich? And his message that when it comes to litter, you have to Zappit in a Zibi Bin?). What happened?
Little Miss Problem-solver sat on the beach and tried out a few ideas. Here is what I thought and distilled, and to be honest, I don’t think it’s such a far-fetched or impossible solution.
There were certain brands that were well represented in the trash, as it were. Not the best image to have portrayed, right? I took some photos and most of the brands can be identified clearly. Two ideas came together. What if those brands were [perhaps by law] held responsible for the packaging they put out right through it’s life cycle? In other words, from creation to disposal/recycling? What if they would be fined for their brand being littered? And what if those brands, you know the big ones, did two things…
- They ran litter education programmes, much like the beach clean-up days that are so popular in corporate business CSI programmes, but also have them in schools and at community days and festivals.
- Instead of having people pick up the trash after the fact, the next day, they have those folk stationed at the beach on the day that the masses descend for their fun day out, to monitor, pick up and educate as the littering occurs? Lead by example and show the value of not littering.
Idealistic? Maybe. But certainly not more than some ideas out there. I think this is workable and should become mandatory. The problem will probably never go away, but this is a simple way to address the problem and will reduce it. The knock-on effects could be huge. It could trickle through into communities, and who knows, people could become proud of their environments again, and whole communities could thrive. From this little action.
Stranger things have been known to happen.
What do you think? Should anything to this plan change for it to work even better? Let me know.