American writer Bill Bryson said “I see litter as part of a long continuum of anti-social behaviour” and in Dunedin we have our share of anti social people who through either laziness or ignorance tarnish our city’s reputation and visual appearance. This was the topic of discussion amongst City Councillors recently when faced with some rather graphic images of the state of cleanliness of our streets. While the contractual arrangements made by the Council were also reported it seems that Councillors had mixed responses to the problem and sought more information from Council staff. Perhaps its simply a matter of generating a wider level of civic pride amongst the community to ensure that the issue does not continue to raise its dirty head in the public arena further. What is clear is that the problem of street and landscape cleanliness is something that has been an on-going issue throughout the City at various times. Organisations such as Keep Dunedin Beautiful have worked tirelessly on public education, community programmes and city awards since 1967. With the passing of the Litter Act in 1979 and the establishment of Keep New Zealand Beautiful the group now has a national organisation for support and advocacy.
One of the issues that came out of the recent City Council discussions was the role of Council in enforcing litter provisions. The Council have far-reaching (but largely unused) powers for the policing and enforcement of litter control on private and public land under the provisions of the Litter Act 1979. There is also provision for the development of bylaws, the warranting of Council staff to act as Litter Control Officers and the issuing of infringement notices. While education and the development of civic-minded culture of citizens in our community is the most desirable outcome to keep our city clean and litter free, the use of these provisions could be undertaken in the most blatant and serious cases. For example the fine for depositing litter in a public place by an individual can be up to $5,000. Another issue that has often been raised regarding the University area is the menace of broken glass in the streets. The Litter Act 1979 allows for 1 months imprisonment or a fine of $7,500 for anyone wilfully breaking glass in a public place. These enforcement provisions should be part of the City Council’s toolbox in their efforts to keep our city clean and its community’s safe from this problem.
Overseas research on littering shows that the reasons for littering are more complicated than simple laziness or apathy. Many human factors determine or influence littering behaviour including, the socio-economic conditions of towns and suburbs, gender (males litter more than females) and age (younger people tend to litter more). Other physical factors also determine littering behaviour including the type and availability of rubbish bins in urban or rural settings and even the packaging type of products people buy may influence their choice to litter or not. Whatever the reason for littering many people in our community find it unacceptable in their streets and environs. Dunedin needs to use a combination of active enforcement, education, civic pride, investment and strategic thinking to make a positive change in our town. We cannot rely on the goodwill of volunteers to do the dirty work, all citizens must share the littering load.