Environmental impact is a global issue nowadays.
There are stronger movements to not use straws and recycle and reuse plastics. And, people in Singapore are getting on board with helping pick up litter on beaches and in parks around the city.
After being here more than seven years, I’ve seen a lot of civic action in this area.
About a year ago, one of the Facebook expat wives pages had a post looking for people to help clean up Changi Beach and the Changi Coastal Walk after one of the members caught sight of a family of otters playing with garbage. Since then, some expats have organized random beach and riverfront cleanups through social media.
The Finder’s Editor-in-Chief Sara Lyle Bow and her young son participated in a beach cleanup this August with the Seven Clean Seas organization. The group was founded last year to help clean up the oceans and beaches, motivated by a trip to Thailand that exposed the amount of litter on the beaches there.
Andrea and her AWA Singapore Walking with Women group
Walk this Way
For my own effort, I recently led my AWA Singapore’s Walking with Women group on a litter cleanup in the East Coast Park after the National Day and Hari Raya holidays. This was prompted by me seeing an insurmountable amount of litter after the previous holiday. I couldn’t believe at how much garbage was left behind at the park, including straws, straw wrappers, forks, tissues, plastic bags and cups, plates and even some rubber balloons.
So, five other women and I each took a shopping bag and picked up about seven bags of garbage. One lady used tongs, which were very handy. We had some plastic gloves, too, but they were very hot. For the next one, we’re all investing in tongs!
Aside from feeling angry about the amount of leftover garbage that local park keepers can’t keep up with, we felt a bit OCD about picking up everything we saw. Since we were on a walk for exercise, truth is, we didn’t get very far. You could easily pick up five pieces of litter within a few feet!
The good part of the event was that it was oddly therapeutic, as remarked by one of the ladies. Plus, it was very motivating to help out, even just a little bit.
But, Why Do People Litter?
What is puzzling, however, is why people don’t just use a garbage can for trash when the bins are placed – at least in the East Coast Park – about every 50 meters apart, some closer.
Some social media commenters suggest that one reason people litter is because they know, in this culture, that it is someone else’s job to clean it up, be it domestic helpers or park workers.
Growing up in America, as I did, we were taught to “Give a hoot! Don’t pollute,” courtesy of the United States Forest Service’s mascot Woodsy Owl. That meant it was everyone’s job to not litter. There’s a big difference here, where some people think it’s taking away gainful employment or job dignity.
Litter spotted at East Coast Park early one morning last month
What are the Penalties for Littering?
Another point was made on social media that here in the “Finest City”, officers may not be giving out enough fines for littering. I’ve personally never seen it, and also secretly hope they’ll start pinging people more for leaving garbage or dropping litter and just walking away from it. When I moved here in 2012, I was told people didn’t litter. Now, I see they do.
But, upon research, the National Environment Agency reported in May that there was a 22-percent increase in the number of tickets issued for littering in 2018 compared to 2017.
By the way, the fine in Singapore for littering is $300 for the first offense. Repeat offenders can also get community clean up service from three to 12 hours. The fine gets bigger on repeat offenses, according to the NEA: “Under the Environmental Public Health Act (EPHA), the maximum fine for a littering offence is $2,000 for the first court conviction, $4,000 for the second conviction, and $10,000 for the third and subsequent convictions.”
With community efforts and government enforcement, we do indeed have a multi-pronged approach to keeping litter off our streets, parks and beaches here in Singapore. Keep an eye out for the grass roots efforts going on around town and on social media pages such as International Coastal Cleanup Singapore and on the Reduce, Reuse, Refuse-Singapore pages.
After that, pick up a pair tongs and go!
About Andrea McKenna Brankin
Andrea McKenna Brankin is a journalist and author from the United States who lives a full life with bipolar disorder. Her book, Bipolar Phoenix, is awaiting a publishing contract. She is also currently a volunteer at the HCSA Dayspring Residential Treatment Centre for teen girls in Singapore, providing befriending-family support, therapeutic writing and rugby coaching.
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