It is not unusual to see a driver roll down his window, hold out a bag stuffed with fast food garbage, a soft-drink can or a cigarette stub and drop it on to the street or highway, then casually speed off. It is also not unusual to see pedestrians or shoppers shamelessly add to the mess with all sorts of debris. Pietermaritzburg’s litter is part of a countrywide waste management problem. Cigarette butts, snack wrappers, take-away food and beverage containers are the most commonly littered items. A worldwide study found that cigarettes were one of the most dangerous forms of litter. The study said that a discarded cigarette butt takes 12 years to break down, all the while leaching toxic elements such as cadmium, lead and arsenic into soil and rivers. While the burden of litter clean-up usually falls to local government, Msunduzi waste management senior manager Cyril Naidoo said with more residents individually or collectively working in conjunction with the City, a lot can be done. He said Pietermaritzburg residents can play a major role by not littering themselves or tolerating others littering our streets. “As a pedestrian, don’t litter. Always remember to take your garbage with you when leaving a park or other public space.” Naidoo said the city was cleaned at night and remained clean until the morning when commuters arrived. He said to intensify its campaign of keeping the city clean, the waste management unit had augmented its fleet. “We have purchased eight refuse compactors, two hooklift trucks and two four-ton trucks to improve our fleet. We do, however, have some challenge in terms of delays in repairs, due to the specialised nature of the trucks and the time taken to access spares.” Naidoo said these issues were being dealt with, following an intervention by councillors and the strategic management committee. He said the city street cleaning is currently undertaken by 60 day shift employees and 30 night shift employees. Naidoo said while the city had enough bins, many residents did not use them. “Bins are carried in stock and replaced as and when required. Litter is due to the irresponsible behaviour of businesses, shoppers and pedestrians.” Naidoo said the City had recently appointed five peace officers and a prosecution officer, who are dealing with investigations and prosecutions. He said 10 peace officers are deployed throughout the city and assigned to specific hotspots. “The city has cameras strategically placed to help identify illegal dumpers and litter bugs,” he said. He said while the municipality issued penalties to the offenders, credible evidence is required for successful prosecutions. Currently, fines issued are for amounts of R1 000, depending on the legislation used, but Naidoo said he was addressing an increase in the fine in the next financial year. He said there were ongoing campaigns by the Msunduzi to keep the city clean. Green Network environmental campaign co-ordinator, Nkanyiso Khumalo said the municipality should encourage recycling and integrate waste pickers in its waste management plan. “Waste pickers play an important role in cleaning our areas as they pick up and collect waste materials daily to sell for income. They invest much more energy and time more than municipal workers but they are not assisted with equipment to improve their working conditions,” said Khumalo. Local man’s anti-litter crusade A Pietermaritzburg anti-litter activist, Mark Coghlan, says that incentivising unemployed people to collect litter could save the city from the litter crisis. Coghlan suggests that Msunduzi Municipality should subsidise people at intersections to collect waste off the streets.In Langa, Cape Town, an initiative spearheaded by Polyco and funded by the Packa-ching project encourages residents to collect recyclable waste in exchange for cash. “I know it’s very menial work but I always think how much better it must be to have some money in your hand that you’ve earned ...” Coghlan who is also on a lonesome anti-litter crusade in the Southgate area said while people voluntarily collected recyclable litter, they received small returns. “I use to have a bakkie and I used to load it up with cans and then take it out for recycling. For an entire bakkie load, I remember getting about R8. I couldn’t even buy coke. “It wasn’t worth my while. If the municipality could subsidise unemployed people to bring in waste instead of standing at intersections, the city can be kept clean.” The cycling enthusiast said he felt “embarrassed” that there was minimal effort to present the city proudly for big events such as the Amashova, taking place tomorrow. He agreed that the municipality was not entirely to blame for the filth, and that residents must also take initiatives to clean up. “It’s not all the municipality’s fault and issue. Where I live I know there aren’t any bins, but if I get into town, I have picked up stuff literally next to the bins … as it makes no difference that it’s there or not. It’s an attitude and a civic pride thing. “The attitude is that if you do not litter, you are actually depriving people of work. “It’s a bizarre kind of logic that by throwing litter, you are creating employment. One has to try and overcome that mentality somehow.” Coghlan said another problem was that because of the apartheid connection, most people did not regard town as part of home. “If everyone did their bit, things could improve ...” Professor of cultural studies at the Durban University of Technology, Jean-Philippe Wade said the decision to use inorganic materials, such as single-use plastic bottles, packets and wrappers, stemmed from a need to show off consumption. “It’s a sign of modernity, a signifier of wealth,” he said. Wade said this was perpetuated by advertising where cans, bottles and items with unnecessary packaging were shown as desirable. “On campus when a student litters and is asked to pick it up, some respond ‘Why should I?’ Others say they are creating jobs, or that it is the institution’s job to pick up litter,” he said. Why the city is in a mess In June, a report by former senior waste management manager Riaz Jogiat highlighted the lack of implementation of by-laws, staff shortages and inadequacies with the waste collection system. The report said that the situation had deteriorated to the point that the municipality cannot ensure that streets in the CBD are cleaned daily or weekly. “There are allegations that some staff working at night do not work an entire eight-hour shift. The lack of daily written work plans for all street sweeping staff based on demand makes it easier to abscond and lack of supervision to go unnoticed,” said Jogiat in the report. The report said that Pietermaritzburg has less than 30% of bins at the recommended interval of 50 to 100 metres because there is no stock. It said that the majority of businesses had also declined the free wheelie bins from the municipality. What the by-laws say According to Msunduzi waste management by-laws, “no person shall dump, deposit, discharge, spill or release waste, or cause or permit such waste to be dumped, discharged, spilled or released, whether or not the waste is in a container or receptacle, in or at any place, whether publicly or privately owned, including but not limited to vacant land, rivers, waterways, catchments, sewers and storm water drains, except in a container or at a place which has been specially indicated, provided or set apart for such purpose”. The by-laws also state that: “No person shall, while driving a vehicle, or while being conveyed in a vehicle, throw or deposit waste in or any public space and no driver of a vehicle shall allow or permit any passenger in such vehicle to throw or deposit such waste in a like manner.” Calls for stricter penalties Concerned residents have called for the City to conduct litter patrols to ticket and fine litterers. Commenting on The Witness Facebook page, Justin Arnold agreed that tougher action could curb the scourge. “It’s simple; punish people who litter. Let’s start there. We have a lawless society because there is no one ever around to enforce regulations,” said Arnold. Rikesh Ishwarlall also agreed that imposing fines on people who litter could help to curb the problem. Nkosinathi Khumalo said he had noticed a lack of dust bins in the city. “If I have to discard something I’m compelled to keep it on my car’s glove compartment until I get home,” he said. Kate Watts said: “The litter definitely seems to be worse along taxi routes. A lot of stuff is being thrown out of windows. “Perhaps, some kind of bin system on taxis and buses and education of conductors for passengers would be useful although I’m sure they’d need some kind of incentive to co-operate.” Resident Diane Heather Carbutt Earl said businesses that use large amounts of paper and plastic also needed to be educated about recycling. Renier de Bruin said: “My worry is that some shop owners do not even care. Can we create a group and start a clean-up campaign using all the beggars at all the traffic lights?” In 2016, the Municipal Services and Living Conditions survey said that about 74% of those who participated in the survey said their area had moderate to extremely bad litter while over 80% agreed that the city centre had the most litter strewn on the streets. The survey findings showed that more needs to be done by way of cleaning the city. “This would also mean the involvement of local communities to take responsibility to clean their areas of residence and business, vendors and entrepreneurs to become responsible to also keep the city clean,” according to the report.