Perpetual pollution: carrots and sticks [The Fiji Times, 14 December 2008]
Just a few weeks ago, concerned citizens mounted a praise-worthy “national clean-up campaign” all over the country. No, not the military type. This was a real clean-up.
Thousands of bags of rubbish plastic and styro-foam bottles, bags and food containers; soft-drink and beer cans were collected. As were hundreds of used discarded tyres.
Today, the Nasese sea-front, and indeed every sea-front around the country, is full of rubbish again.
Radio and TV have been full of catchy ads appealing to the public to “do the right thing”: don’t pollute; don’t use plastic bags unnecessarily; use re-usable shopping bags.
But our lazy, disgraceful, polluting public stubbornly refuse to do the “right thing”.
It is abundantly clear that educating our pathetic and apathetic peoples to do the right thing is going to take years, if not decades. Our curse of “perpetual pollution” is not going away, anytime soon.
This country cannot dilly dally any more. Draconian action is called for.
We must provide big “carrots” – financial incentives for our people not to throw away polluting garbage.
We must use big “sticks” to punish those who insist on continuing to pollute.
And we must have legislation that simply bans the polluting materials which are not amenable to the “carrot” or the “stick”.
Perpetual and pervasive pollution
It is horrifying the extent to which we lazyFiji people have rubbished our once pristine environment. Every where one sees the plastic garbage- on the streets, on the highways, fluttering on fences, floating on the public ocean fronts. Floating in our rivers, oceans and mangroves all over the country. Tyres lying around everywhere collecting water and breeding mosquitoes.
Have a look at the mangroves behind the Fiji Golf Club course- chock-a-block with piles and piles of plastic garbage, tyres and bottles of all description and type.
Our experts have written books after books, articles after articles, pointing out the huge economic and environmental costs of all this pollution to tourism, to marine life, to our sense of aesthetics etc.
Economists charmingly, poetically, and euphemistically call this pollution “negative externalities”- where private individuals enjoy their private benefits, but the costs are borne by others and society.
Economists offer all kinds of “solutions” to counter pollution. Taxes are proposed on all plastics and tyres used: consumers will pay the tax and a higher price, government will gain the cash, but the pollution continues. No, that’s not enough.
Learn from the Bottle Boys
Surely we can learn from the “bottle boys”. How often are we annoyed at the trucks driving around urban areas at all hours of the day, seven days a week, tooting their horns and disturbing our peace and quiet.
But the bottle boys scamper in out of compounds, avoiding dogs, they collect all the beer bottles, for a small price.
Fiji people generally do not throw away beer bottles. That would be throwing away money.
As many letter-writers to newspapers have suggested, with great common sense, let us bring the same logic to plastic bottles, containers and tyres. Every plastic bottle, container or tyre MUST have a large refundable deposit charged to consumers.
That deposit should be large enough to make sure that people do not throw these plastic bottles or containers away, but return them for the cash they represent. The larger the bottle or container, the larger the refundable tax. Perhaps 20 cents for the ordinary bottles and containers, and 30 cents for the large ones; five dollars for every normal tyre; twenty dollars for every large tyre.
Of course our consumers will scream and shout: “cost of living is going up; poverty is increasing; we cannot afford the higher price”. But only for a while.
Most of us will not throw away these plastic bottles, containers and tyres. We will be selling them to the same trucks that drive around collecting the bottles. Their price would perhaps be half the refundable deposit so that they can make a profit selling them to the collection centres.
Indeed, their incomes should virtually triple overnight, and they might even pay their bottle boys decent wages, instead of the few dollars they given them per day.
And if the lazy ones amongst us still throw the plastic bottles and containers away, then the hundreds of bottle boys around the country, will scamper around and pick up all that rubbish to sell for cash.
They might even go foraging around in mangroves and pick up every item lying around.
Of course, government may have to have a small fund to pay for all the polluting items already in our environment. But that would be a small price to pay.
Learn from the LTA
Let us learn from the LTA experience with seat-belts.
Remember the days when radio and TV ads used to plead with our people- please belt up; save your lives.
Well, no one has to plead and beg and educate us any more about putting on seat-belts. The stiff fines charged by the LTA has fixed all the lazy drivers in the country.
Giving the LTA officers bonuses for every conviction has also given them the encouragement to find offenders.
The same as all the tow-trucks that go around the country looking for drivers parking illegally. They get a commission from City Councils for every car they impound. You don’t see too many cars parking illegally, do you?
So let us have serious $500 fines for all those thoughtless people who park along the sea-sides and lazily throw their McDonalds food and drink containers out the window.
Let us give the police (perhaps special pollution police), commissions for every conviction they make- perhaps 10 percent of the fine.
They might even lurk around parked cars, waiting for the polluting lazy people to throw a McDonalds container out the window. Our lazy people will soon learn, not to pollute.
Ban the plastic bags
Of course, there are all these millions of flimsy plastic bags that would not be worthwhile taxing and paying people to collect them.
But for decades, our people used to go to shops and markets and bring back their purchases without a single plastic bag being used.
As children we used to go to the market, trotting behind our mothers, carrying the cloth bags- the universally useful jholiwhich our mothers used to sew themselves out of strong linen cloth or even jute sacking.
Which today’s “enviro” bags are imitating with their attractive green colours and logos. I am surprised that Vodaphone and Digicel have not given each of their customers strong shopping bags with their logos. We might even know who has got what share of the mobile market!
But there is no reason why every household should not have a dozen or so jholiswhich can be used for the shops, super-markets and the produce markets.
So let us just ban all the plastic bags, using legislation.
Of course, they will be yelling and shouting from a few plastic bag manufacturers who will lose their source of profit, but will be pointing to the few jobs that would be at stake.
Some of them will even run around seeing which minister will take a brown paper bag filled with coloured paper. And some ministers may even try to stop the legislation.
What do we value more?
Do we value a clean environment with all its incalculable benefits?
Or do we place greater value on the profits of a small number of manufacturers who really don’t give a damn if our environment is thoroughly polluted, and who feed into the laziness of our polluting citizens?
We can keep piddling around with these expensive education campaigns on radio and TV. We can continue our annual masochism of cleaning up after our selfish dirty disgusting citizens carelessly trash our environment.
Or we can apply carrots and sticks that are big enough to stop the perpetual pollution.
The choice is ours to make today. Our children will inherit the results in the future.