’It’s time to pay attention to littering’
Commissioner, Invest KOREA
On the first Saturday of September, throngs of volunteers and their family members from GM Korea, Standard Chartered Cheil Bank, Battelle Korea, Seocho City and Invest Korea picked up trash for two hours around the on- and off-ramps of Yangjae Interchange.
Our plastic bags filled quickly with crumpled newspapers, glass bottles, PET bottles, dirty napkins and, most of all, cigarette butts.
The primary litterers were motorists stuck in traffic and pedestrians.
One volunteer from a foreign-invested company just couldn’t understand what he was seeing.
“Hank, why do people throw their trash out on the street when they have ash trays in their cars or can throw it away at a gas station later?” he grumbled. “We are non-residents but collecting Koreans’ garbage. This is like guests cleaning up after a party instead of the host. I hope motorists who see us will refrain from littering. I hardly see ‘No Littering’ signs in Korea. Are you indifferent to littering?”
Most countries, including Korea, have a law against littering and consider the act a criminal offense.
The average fine for littering in the U.K. is about ￡100 plus any costs awarded by the court. However, maximum fine is ￡2,500.
Litter in California and you can be fined $1,000. In the state of Washington, the littering of lit cigarettes can incur a fine of up to $1,025.
Why the steep punishment for a toss of trash? Here are some reasons.
A. Litter is a threat to our health because it attracts vermin and is a breeding ground for bacteria. Also, items such as broken glass and syringes can be a public health hazard.
B. Litter looks bad. It tarnishes Korea’s image, especially to foreign tourists.
C. Litter pollutes our waterways and can cause floods, like those we experienced last month, by clogging sewage pipes.
D. Litter can cause car accidents. In the U.S., more than 800 people are killed a year in litter-attributed motor vehicle accidents.
Last but not least, litter attracts litter. It sends the message that people do not care for their environment and that it is acceptable to litter.
I would also like to point out that litter lasts. Aluminum cans last 80-100 years, glass bottles a million years, tin cans 50 years, and plastic bottles, indefinitely.
The Minor Offenses Act prohibits littering and punishes offenses with a 30,000 to 50,000 won fine. The incongruity between the indelibleness of the offense and the lightness of the punishment makes you wonder what message the Act is really sending.
Considering also Korea’s status as a role model for development, and the upcoming Asian Games and 2018 Winter Olympics, it’s high time we stopped seeming indifferent to littering.