Time to stop trashing the place
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Time to stop trashing the place

Unfortunately, the anti-littering ethos has not taken hold in Thailand. Municipal workers with their oversized bamboo brooms work hard to overcome the barrage of junk being constantly and carelessly tossed on the ground by pedestrians. A long-tail boat ride to a beautiful beach in Phangnga may lead to disappointment when the beach is strewn with washed-up wrappers and plastic bottles.

Photo: Pattanapong Hirunard

There ought to be a law against that, right? Well, there is.

Nationally, numerous laws have anti-littering components such as the Public Cleanliness and Orderliness Act, the Act of Maintenance of Waterworks, the National Park Act and the Highway Act. Each prohibits any person from discharging or leaving waste in public spaces. Section 20(1) of the Public Health Act states that for the purpose of maintaining cleanliness and orderliness the local government has the power to forbid the discharge, emptying, leaving, or causing to exist in a public place or way of sewage or solid waste, except in a place provided by the local government for such a purpose.

In Bangkok, the designated authority in charge of keeping our streets litter free is the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration. The penalty for discarding your rubbish in a non-designated area within a public space is a fine not exceeding 2,000 baht, or 10,000 baht for roadways and waterways. The authorities will exercise discretion when assessing the severity of the offence, based on the type of rubbish illegally discarded, the amount and the location in which the offence occurred.

The BMA has on occasion dispatched their infamous “litter police”, known in Thai as thetsakij. These are inspectors that resemble the Bangkok Metropolitan Police in every discernible way, from uniform design to colours and badges, but they are not allowed to carry firearms.

The thetsakij can be found in popular tourist areas such as Sukhumvit Road and are on the lookout for anyone throwing rubbish on the ground. Given their appearance, they are commonly mistaken for actual police by their prey. Transgressors cannot be arrested, but can be levied a fine that must be paid on the spot (for which a receipt must be issued), or required to clean up their litter. Upon finishing a nerve-calming smoke prior to exams at Thammasat, a lawyer I know flicked the butt onto the pavement; almost immediately he found himself wearing a bright orange vest, cleaning up his own litter (and more) in front of the university as other test-takers filed past.

Despite the prevalence of the thetsakij and the potential for a relatively high fine, the anti-littering laws haven’t yet had the full desired impact. Informal piles of rubbish are commonly seen beneath overpasses and errant rubbish bags abound. Perhaps stronger sanctions would help. Thailand pales in comparison to Singapore when it comes to the enforcement and severity of anti-littering laws.

In Singapore, a first offence for littering will cost you S$300 (7,830 baht). If someone is caught littering a second time, the fine rises to a whopping $500, and the offender must appear in court.

Most often these “serial litterers” will be issued a Corrective Work Order, which is a mandate for community service that involves the offender cleaning beaches or other public spaces while wearing a brightly-coloured jacket with insignia designed to bring shame to the litterbug. Discarding an unused receipt or cigarette butt on the ground in Singapore could result in a very unfashionable and costly penalty.

North Americans of a certain age are familiar with an image that marked the start of their anti-littering awareness — a native American Indian paddles his birch-bark canoe on a litter strewn river beside pollution-belching factories, lands it on a the shore beside a highway and has a bag of rubbish thrown out a car window at his feet. His majestic visage turns to face the camera as a tear trickles slowly down from his right eye.

While financial penalties undoubtedly helped curb littering habits, law enforcement officials generally have more important work to do. In North America what made people stop and think before tossing the soft drink cans or sweet wrappers out of the car window was the moral element of the Indian’s message. It suddenly felt wrong to do so. Perhaps something similar would work here. What do you think?

Angus Mitchell (angus.mitchell@dfdl.com), Matthew Christensen (matthew.c@dfdl.com) and Ponpun Krataykhwan(ponpun@dfdl.com).

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