Dumi Magadlela
Dumi Magadlela

How to stop litterbugs

Baby cats are cute little things called litter. That’s not the litter I’m talking about here. This is about human litter. Not the daily verbal type either, the physical mess we scatter around freely. It’s the product of a nasty, filthy habit of those with no regard for the environment or what happens to the garbage we throw out our cars, minibus taxis and the train. Strikes and bin-trashing during labour unrest does not count, especially when the same people that trashed the streets go on to clean up after themselves.

I was driving home one Joburg evening when a live cigarette stub landed in front of me. I impulsively swerved before registering the immediate “harmlessness” of the threat. Later, I realised that the threat and risk of this is real and I do not mean in the form of the medical costs of treating lung cancer and related illnesses, but the environmental challenges of cleaning up after grown-ups who should know better and the long-term impact of the slow breakdown and degeneration of waste. Yet littering happens all the time. The wise ones say that we see more of what we pay attention to than anything else. So if I pay attention to litter I will see more of it. Driving behind a bus the other day an empty pack of potato crisps flew past my windscreen, followed a few minutes later by a banana peel, a plastic bottle and plastic bag with something that I could not figure out at around 60km/h. I kept thinking, this mess really sucks. The wise ones say that in every perceived problem or challenge lies hidden a great opportunity. So I searched my troubled mind and there it was. A potentially lucrative concept for an advert against littering.

The idea is to freak out every smoker and make them think twice about flicking that stub out the car, to stop the passenger in the minibus taxi, bus from throwing their junk out the window. Smokers, I can’t understood why you don’t stick the stub in the compartment provided for you in your car. Someone please explain that to me.

The advert might disgust you, but I think it might work. Keep an open mind. (I’ll keep the rights to the original concept, thank you). Picture this advert on television, graphics done perfectly. Cars in full colour driving along a road, smouldering waste on either side of the road, two metres high and five metres wide, plastic bags and burning cigarette stubs all piled up. Every time someone throws something out of the car, the dirt gulps it down, burps and grows bigger, heaves up and down and spews corrosive toxins onto the person’s car, eating up their tires and other car rubbers and plastics, then sucks the car into the dirt, slowly, while the driver gets stuck … sucks the dirt, chokes on it, does not die.

Nasty, that last bit, but necessary. I take it back. No killing.

We don’t need Greenpeace to tell us the ocean is chocking with plastic and bottles. Small habits make a huge impact. Equally, small changes cumulatively have a huge positive impact. This calls for a small mindshift and lots of willpower from each one of us.

My little niece had a better suggestion for an anti-litter campaign. She says all litter, cigarette stubs, plastics should somehow come alive and follow the owner right to their homes and demand to be properly disposed of. Freaky that. I did not put those clever (nasty!) ideas into her head. It’s the little angel’s fertile imagination. I did not ask her what happens if the person refuses to dispose of the litter properly. I think she would say that the litter must then fly and stick itself onto the person’s body until he apologises and does the right thing. I’ll ask her.

Imagine all the cigarette stubs or rubbish you have ever thrown out of your car following you to your house and piling up in your garage or driveway.

Not a pretty sight that. I think Pikitup or the department of environmental affairs should work on this advert and flight it before the 2010 Fifa Soccer World Cup. It might mean that a few street cleaners’ jobs are at risk but it will help clean up the environment. Littering is increasing at an alarming rate, we may not see it clearly yet but it will choke our lives or those of our children down the line.

What about the politicians’ verbal litter? I’ll ask my little niece for suggestions.