Littering and class/culture/ethnicity

On Easter Sunday, our family went to a World Heritage listed site for a swim and a picnic. On arriving, we found the area littered with empty bourbon cans, used diapers left in plastic bags, cardboard boxes and other miscellaneous rubbish aligning the babbling creek. There was a rubbish bin at the top of the flight of steps to get down to the waterway, so I gathered it all up and bunged it in the bin.

Which of course, got me thinking.

Littering like that is getting to be a rarity in Australia (thank fuck). Since the mid 1970’s, when the government instituted a massive campaign to Keep Australia Beautiful, the tendency to find random shit around has lessened considerably. It’s as ingrained into our national psyche as deeply as turning the tap off when brushing your teeth and watching out for speed cameras to report their locations to the local radio stations. So, finding that crap at the water-hole was disappointing to say the least.

A couple of years ago in Vietnam, we encountered a similar situation. We were visiting a waterfall on Phu Quoc Island, and noticed the locals sitting on rocks eating and drinking in the middle of the river…then chucking their cans, boxes of food etc straight into the waterway. Not just one family, but ALL of them. There seemed to be no regard whatsoever for the ‘natural beauty’ of the area, and that environmental impacts were just not part of the equation: Done with something, just dump it.

At another destination point on the island, we also encountered the dumped nappy bags, bottles and crap totally engulfing the area. What should have been a fairly pristine place was just a garbage tip.

Upon talking to a local person later that day, he told us that the emerging middle-class in Vietnam consider removing their own rubbish as ‘beneath’ them, that taking their crap and putting it in a provided bin was somehow demeaning. I sort of understood the concept, but couldn’t quite reconcile the notion of class privilege overriding the need to protect the environment, especially one that is nowadays quite dependent on the tourism industry. Many, MANY SE Asian countries are battling the rubbish problem, with single-use plastics contaminating waterways and land-areas, but it’s not only the tourists creating this problem.

It’s the local attitudes to littering as well. Surely they understand that excess rubbish is deterring tourism in those areas??

Anyway, back to my bogans at Crystal Cascades. Once I’d removed their rubbish, we managed to fit another family in to enjoy the falls, the wee fishes (Jungle Perch) swimming in the shallows, and the awesome ambience of being in the rainforest in the Wet Tropics. All I hope is that the reason they left their shit behind was that they had to leave in a hurry and were all stung by a nasty tree endemic to the area, or a stray crocodile chomped off one of their toes.

Bourbon comes in a can?

Littering seems to be an increasing issue here in the UK as well lately. I was sort of amused (in a depressing kind of way) last year, when I was living in Cornwall, a noted tourist area- there’s a popular impression in the area that all the litter is from selfish tourists, but the quantity of litter actually went up during lockdown, when it was only people from the town on the local walks. Stuff including used nappies jammed into stone walls, and masses of bagged dog crap, often hung in a tree, or just thrown into the woodland. It may have been partly due to reduced pick up events, but it definitely ain’t just the tourists.

I’ve definitely come across the ‘it’s someone else’s job, I’m too important to find a bin’ attitude here as well, largely from teens. Little kids, on the other hand, almost all seem to be very anti-litter, it’s pretty common for them to go out collecting it, and schools seem to be pushing that. I do wonder if there is a backlash problem with teens rebelling against the stuff they were told at school, and associating caring about litter with little kids, rather than being a responsible adult.

This sort of thing is maddeningly delicate. You have to pressure people in a way that they want to keep things clean, yet not trigger their “nobody gets to tell me what to do” inner rebelliousness.

IMHO, it depends heavily on who is doing the pressuring. If it’s your own age peers pressuring you to put the trash in the bin and not litter, it will be very effective. If it’s your elders or government, perhaps not so much.

In addition, littering begets some sort of contagious/magnetic effect. If a place is absolutely pristine and clean, people may be reluctant to be the first one to eyesore it up by leaving junk out in the open. But once a significant amount of litter accumulates, people think “what’s one more Coke can?” and chuck it there as well.

Yeah, bourbon, gin, vodka and whiskey amongst other things can be bought in a can or by the stubby here in Aus.

Bourbon in a can

I was thinking straight bourbon! But that makes more sense. I think we have mixed drinks like that in a can here in the States too.

You know how Japan has a reputation for being scrupulously clean and fastidious, and you never see any trash anywhere?

If you’re wondering where all the trash disappears to, visit the beach. It’s gross as fuck (and yes, to answer the question I get asked, I did pick up some labels and read them, none of it was Chinese or Korean. All Japanese).

I wonder if that’s weird enough for @Mangetout .

I literally could not read further than that point. Dumbfounded by the idea.

It doesn’t have to be. A spell of jail time for littering can cut through all the delicacy.

Cultural issues are indeed complex and delicate, but you know what helps? Actual infrastructure. Make sure that there are plenty of garbage cans and that they’re emptied frequently, and hire people to supervise and clean the sites - the kind of people who aren’t afraid to shout at visitors for littering. That’s half the battle right there.

I have long encountered the meme/perception that litter is more prevalent in poorer neighborhoods of Chicago. At one point, I believe I heard that poorer areas had fewer trash cans. In fact, the number of pubic trash cans has been drastically reduced since I was a kid in the 60s-70s. I suppose to save $ on staff to empty them.

When I grew up, there was a girls’ high school on the next block. The students would drop all manner of candy wrappers and such on their way to/from school. My dad always drilled into me that anytime I walked up to the house, if I saw trash, I should pick it up and throw it away in a trash can. Didn’t matter that I didn’t generate the trash. I lived there.

Today I live in a suburb more upscale than the neighborhood I was raised in. It astounds me the extent to which folk are willing to just leave trash on their lawns. I dunno - maybe they never even walk around their modest front yards. There is one house a block over that we regularly pass walking the dog. Sold a year or 2 ago for $600k. Has had a flattened Sprite can on its front yard for more than 2 weeks now! :roll_eyes:

I’ve never understood the mentality of someone who thinks it is not their responsibility to hang on to their waste until they get somewhere that they can properly dispose of it. The ultimate may be the person tossing trash out their car window, or emptying their car’s ashtray onto the parking lot…

Interesting discussion, re: class expectations regarding litter. I can kinda get how people in societies that are accustomed to what we might term “servants” think little of leaving their trash around. To them, there is always someone “from the lower classes” who will pick up after them.

Anecdotally, working in IT in the US, I became friends with many immigrants from India. One young lady shared how she had married for love, instead of having an arranged marriage. The result was that she was shunned from the family. She and her husband moved to the US, as planned, but the whole transition was an eye opener for her. You see, she came from an upper-middle class family in India, and grew up with a whole houseful of servants - cooks, cleaners, drivers. The loudest comment she made about being on her own and living in the US was, “I had to clean my own toilet!” Oh, the horror.

I’m not suggesting ALL of anyone is ALL of the problem, simply that a slice of the pie can be accounted for.

My dad was an avid environmentalist who always taught us to leave no trace when in the wilderness, but he got bent out of shape if we packed out our garbage at a ballgame or movie theater. By not leaving a pile of peanut shells under our seats, we were taking some poor person’s job away. Same for returning shopping carts to the front of a store. I’ve seen the same thing in poor countries where the quickest way to offend is to try and pick up after yourself our carry your own luggage.

In general Montreal streets are not littered. The exception recently has been face masks; I don’t know why. But a long time ago, I saw a woman walking about a half block away, wearing a fur coat. She took a Kleenex out of her pocket, blew her nose and, very demurely, dropped the tissue on the sidewalk. Had I been close enough, I would have been tempted to pick it up, catch up to her, stuff it in her face and say, “Lady you dropped this.”

In the fall a number of homes in our neighborhood have trees that drop decent amounts of leaves. The area is all suburban with cement sidewalks and gutters. There are homes where people rake the leaves off their front yards and sidewalks, but leave piles of them in the gutters to eventually clog-up the drains. I am always kicking piles of leaves off the drains so we don’t get ponding, or have the storm drains clog altogether.

What I do not understand is why someone will make the effort to clean-up “their” yard and sidewalk (altho those technically belong to the city), but then ignore the leaves right there next to what they’re raking up because it is in the gutter or street. I always assumed the cleaning of the gutter was “beneath them”.

No cite available, but some areas instruct people to rake leaves into the street, to be picked up by street sweepers.

Spend some time around small children, and it becomes clear that disposing of waste is very much a learned behavior, and often one that needs a lot of repetition to learn. People who didn’t learn it won’t have it. And the bounds of what’s acceptable vary quite a lot from place to place, time to time, and culture to culture.

And not always in a well-reasoned, consistent, or obvious way, either. Like, people carry bags to collect their dog’s poop in many places, but also let their cats out to poop wherever. And people who ride horses never collect the poop. I wouldn’t throw an apple core on the sidewalk, but I might pitch it into a bush if I were on a hike. And so on.

That’s how it was where I grew up. Now, living in a different town, it’s against the village ordinances to do so.

I think throwing organic, decompose-able waste into bushes, out of sight, is perfectly fine. I wouldn’t want a banana peel on the sidewalk, but an apple core thrown a dozen yards into the forest is just OK.