Why are we such Litterbugs?


IN less than two weeks since the opening of the newly-completed Telok Melano-Sematan road in western Sarawak, the litterbugs arrived at the village and beaches of Telok Melano.

In the picture on the left, you can see the usually pristine, peaceful, clean, and serene beach at Telok Melano; on the right you see what recent visitors left behind (photos from Datuk Safri Zainuddin’s Facebook timeline).

On Jan 26, the new stretch of the most westerly part of the Pan Borneo Highway, now formally known as the Telok Melano-Sematan road, was launched jointly by the Sarawak and federal governments.

This has opened up the vast areas of jungle and beachfront resources along the 32.7km twin lane paved road, hitherto only reachable by sea on small boats usually taking up to a day and a night in the 1990s. On this new road, it will take just under 30 minutes from the coastal town of Sematan, and just over two hours from Kuching, 140km away.

It has taken 39 months to construct, having spanned six bridges and cutting through hills and swamps. The project was a personal proposal of the late Chief Minister of Sarawak, Tan Sri Adenan Satem, who as the assemblyman for the constituency of Tanjong Datu had managed to sway then Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak to allocate RM30 million for the additional 22km stretch.

We have seen all this blatant littering before – at beaches throughout Sarawak, from Pasir Pandak to Santubong, from Damai to Pandan, and I am sure at the majority of beaches which have been opened to and been used by the public.

Postings on my Facebook public forum Sarawak Public Feedback are constantly updated with photos and comments on litterbugs at large everywhere throughout Sarawak, not just at beaches but at public places everywhere.

The more recent ones were during the launch of the Floating Electric Fountain at the Waterfront and various other events. The recurring ones include the continued littering around the vicinity of the Kuching Civic Centre carpark, where during Fridays and Saturdays, for the past three years, we have seen the activities of the so-called Satok Uptown Market – its patrons would leave their empties, plastic, and other garbage along the roadsides of the surrounding area. For a specific-purpose facility, allowing such a night market to continue to do business is a blatant slap in the face to the local councils and health authorities as well as the environmentally conscious bodies. The reason that’s been given so far as to why it has been allowed to continue? They tell me that it’s “… just PBB politics”.

My personal take on why some of us are such habitual litterbugs?

I blame it all on the personal upbringing of the person who flicks his smoked cigarette butt, throws down his can or packet of empty drink, fling his used tissue paper or just spits out the car window. He probably wasn’t taught as a kid growing up at home, or he had seen the low (or non-existent) standard set by his own parent or parents.

By the time he goes to school, he sees the same thing happening in school, the schoolyard is unkempt and there is no civics class to teach him any better. His teachers may just overlook this part of his growing up education. So he continues his bad habits, taking it further into the toilets and the school properties he uses. Inside the latrines, he would either forget or wouldn’t bother to flush after doing his business; after having probably squatted on the toilet bowl with his sneakers on and wetting the floor instead of his own bottom.

He wouldn’t blink an eye about not taking care of school property or will start his lifelong litterbug habit by throwing a gum wrapper here and a piece of tissue there.

On reaching adulthood, such habits will be hard to break. It becomes second nature and the world around him becomes his garbage bin to do what he likes whenever he feels like it.

I also blame the many local authorities – the councils, the health departments, the enforcement personnel – for not providing enough garbage bins, putting up public notices, having programmes and creating publicity to highlight such littering bad habits. Yes, we can say that enforcement too has been slack, virtually non-existent and personnel understaffed – but when there hasn’t been a will to do it as a major offensive, we can never get rid of this stigma in our society.

When was the last time that you heard that someone has been nabbed or fined for littering? Virtually never, right? So life goes on …

On Feb 6, about two weeks after the official opening of the new Telok Melano-Sematan road, the current assemblywoman, Datuk Amar Jamilah Anu, wife of the late Adenan Satem; paid a visit to her constituency to see for herself what she had read on social media about the massive littering at the newly-accessible villages and beaches. To her credit, she had said that the current facilities to cater for such a sudden massive influx of domestic tourists, who had wanted to try the new road, were vastly inadequate and she has promised that while there is work in progress to ensure facilities will be either be upgraded or made available, she would also personally monitor to ensure the work on them will be expedited.

Currently, there are 22 registered homestays within this small village of Telok Melano. No doubt many more are ‘unregistered’ and you can bet your bottom ringgit that in the months and years to come, even more will be sprouting up. The influx of tourists has just begun.

We are happy to see both progress and development reach these parts and that the locals will eventually benefit from the fruits of all this.

At the same time, we must also continue to educate, inform and to enforce those measures that make up a decent society and seek to improve and enhance our community’s level of cleanliness and health consciousness – not just within one’s own household but in the public arena as well.

It’s time for a call to arms to combat the few litterbugs in our midst who continue to destroy our clean environment. We must shame and fine them – that to me seems the only way forward on this issue.