Durban - Littering on the streets and beaches of KwaZulu-Natal, fuelled by burgeoning consumerism and laziness, is taking its toll on tourism, house prices and the environment.
Mabuyi Gumede, an expert in coastal resort development from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said littering had become a habit with people not taking responsibility for public space.
“The more they litter, the more it becomes a habit. Once litter starts to pile up, people feel less responsible for adding to the litter.
“Sometimes the garbage bin is just across the road but people are too lazy to cross the street.”
Gumede said research showed the most frequent culprits were under 19, but that: “The 21 to 35 age group is three times more likely to litter than the 50 and up crowd.
“Research also shows that men litter more than women.”
UKZN sociologist, Malcolm Draper, said the decision to use inorganic materials, such as single-use plastic bottles, packets and wrappers, stemmed from a need to show off consumption. “It’s a sign of modernity, a signifier of wealth,” he said.
Draper said this was perpetuated by advertising where cans, bottles and items with unnecessary packaging were shown as desirable.
He said when his car was dusty, students often scribbled “Please wash me” on its body.
“But that is healthy dirt. It is soil, where our food grows. It’s completely organic.
But, on campus, when a student litters and is asked to pick it up, some respond ‘Why should I? I’m a Marxist’. Others say they are creating jobs, or that it is the institution’s job to pick up litter,” he said.
Natalie Gorven, of KZN Beach Cleanup, said people were unaware of the consequences of littering and how it directly affected them.
“Littering can influence the quality of drinking water and leave harmful substances in seafood.”
She said there was little reward for the recycling of plastics.
But the environment would not be the only sector affected.
Owner of estate agency Seeff Berea, Roger Hoaten, said a property’s marketability was tied to its surroundings in many ways.
“For example, in lower Glenwood we recently had a problem pushing a unit because of the degradation of an area. We had sold one unit (in the complex) four months before, but the area had changed since then,” he said.
He said the problem was “significant” but, in areas such as Musgrave and Stephen Dlamini (Essenwood) Road where the agency operated, the issue seemed “under control”.
Durban Coastal area principal for Pam Golding Properties, Carol Reynolds, said the environment definitely had an impact on property prices and if littering became a problem, it would be detrimental on house prices and rentals.
“Buyers gravitate towards well-kept neighbourhoods, and if there is an ongoing issue with litter, this will create a perception that the area isn’t ideal, which will in turn reduce house prices in the area.”
She said a one-off occurrence would not have any real impact, but ongoing unsightliness would start to have a negative impact over time.
Federated Hospitality Association of South Africa (Fedhasa) operations manager, Charles Preece, said the state of the city was “very disappointing”.
“Why would people from other areas in KZN or Gauteng or even Europe want to come to sit in a rubbish dump? This will definitely influence whether tourists come here.”
Preece said it was easy to blame the municipality, but residents needed to take responsibility.
City spokeswoman, Tozi Mthethwa, said eThekwini had been inspired by Singapore’s policies on littering and had pledged to crack down on litter bugs by imposing fines and prison sentences.
“Law enforcement officers are enforcing seashore regulations and city bylaws and transgressors are dealt with accordingly. There are joint operations to maintain law and order at our city beaches.”
She said eThekwini’s Parks, Leisure and Cemeteries Unit undertook daily clean-ups along the beachfront and Blue Lagoon.
These problems were not isolated to South Africa.
A recent report published in National Geographic said people dumped 8 million tons of plastic into the oceans every year.
Nigerian social scientist, Oluyinka Ojedokun, said in research published last year that social and cultural norms played a role in littering in Nigeria.
“In some traditional settings, daily cleaning is believed to be an uncontested duty of the women. This kind of cultural influence inhibits littering-prevention actions.”
Director of the Argentina-based Urban Environmental Consultancy, Carlos Eduardo Micilio, drew an analogy between other misdemeanours and littering, in a post on monitoring group Waste Management World.
“If people commit ‘petty offences’ (such as illegal parking) and fail to be penalised, more serious offences and crimes will appear on the scene. An open-air dump is a true reflection of what I am talking about. It starts with a few bags of waste, then if they all do it, why not me?”
Littering is a universal problem. Other cities in South Africa shared their approaches to tackling the problem.
City manager, Mxolisi Nkosi, said the problem was “serious and distressing”.
“I can’t even begin to describe how sad it is to see the river being used as a place to dispose of dirty nappies,” he said.
“Our challenges are not in terms of capacity, but in changing attitudes, which is something we are trying to do through education programmes.”
He said the city was cleaned at night and remained clean until about 9am when commuters arrived.
Ernest Sonnenberg, mayoral committee member for the utility services department, said it ran extra clean-up services during summer.
He said the city began cleaning after an event as soon as it ended.
The city delivered a seven-day a week plus night shift service of litter picking and street sweeping in all main business areas in Cape Town.
He said there was no problem of littering in the city centre, but some people practised illegal dumping.
Sonnenberg credited the city’s intensive educational programmes.
“People tend to think dropping one small piece of litter will not make a difference, but every single dropped item plays a part in contributing to a much bigger problem. The power to change this lies in the hands of residents.”
Amanda Nair, managing director of Pikitup, the City of Johannesburg’s waste management entity, wrote in an opinion piece for Daily News’s sister paper The Star last year that fining transgressors could be a solution.
The other was to encourage the formation of neighbourhood cleaning organisations to involve residents in the clean-up process.