Jerusalemites: Do not litter, please

The problem is by no means a new one in the capital, having been in existence since Ehud Olmert’s reign as mayor, if not before.

There goes the neighborhood: Chopin, Jerusalem (photo credit: KEREN PREISKEL)
There goes the neighborhood: Chopin, Jerusalem
(photo credit: KEREN PREISKEL)
The issue of litter on the streets is a rather sensitive (and malodorous) one for Jerusalem residents, brought to the fore by the garbage collectors’ strike of the past few days. Thankfully, the strike has come to an end but it is rumored that it will take more than a week to collect all that has been lining our streets and for things to return to normal.
However, even during normal times, the streets of the Holy City are still full of litter – even though in addition to garbage collectors, there are street cleaners collecting errant items that either missed the dumpsters or were dropped by people failing to adhere to the prohibition against littering.
The problem is by no means a new one in the capital, having been in existence since Ehud Olmert’s reign as mayor (1993-2003), if not before. Olmert is rumored to have said that “a city in which residents don’t care and litter around cannot be kept clean.”
The problem lessened somewhat during Uri Lupolianski’s term (2003-2008), but by no means disappeared.
Since Nir Barkat came to power in 2008, the issue is not as severe as it used to be, thanks in part to the fact that he managed to hire private cleaning teams for the Old City and add additional cleaners for the western side.
Yet even now, as a non-driver and a dog owner, I frequently walk the city and can testify to the filthy state of the streets – with cigarette butts, food wrappers, leftover food and dog feces covering them. I walk my dogs while armed with a hefty supply of plastic bags and always pick up after them (having done it myself, there are few things more infuriating than stepping in excrement), but I face a constant battle while walking them to prevent them eating cigarettes, plastic bags and rotting food, such as stuffed vine leaves, that people have left out. (Perhaps they were thinking cats will consume them, although I am somewhat skeptical as to whether cats like this particular foodstuff.)
Why should Jerusalemites have to suffer the unpleasantness of living in a filthy environment and at the same time pay dearly for the “pleasure”? Arnona (municipal tax) is very high in the capital (for those that pay it) and is constantly increasing, yet the standard of service seems to stay the same or go down.
There are, of course, laws prohibiting littering, but it is all very well having a law if it is next to impossible to enforce and if fines are rarely given to those violating it.
The Israel Police website states that the Law for Maintaining Cleanliness (1984) prohibits the throwing of garbage, including car parts and building waste, into the public domain in order to prevent harming the environment, both immediate and more distant, and to prevent the spread of unpleasant smells and smoke. It then goes on to state that those who violate this are liable for a fine or even imprisonment.
I highly doubt that anyone has ever been imprisoned in Israel for littering.
It also prohibits the tossing of refuse of any kind from cars (the person that I saw throwing a bottle from his moving car three weeks ago must have missed that memo) and even drawing on, engraving or scratching on any property in the public domain. The website claims that fines for such behavior will range from NIS 250 to NIS 8,000, depending on the severity of the crime and whether it is an individual person or corporation that carried out the transgression.
According to statistics provided by the Jerusalem Municipality representative, 405 fines of NIS 475 were handed out during 2015 (data are not kept from previous years). While it is true that the number of fines (and perhaps the amount) need to be greatly increased, which will assist in reducing the severity of the problem, education against throwing litter and stressing the importance, health-wise and aesthetically, of living in a clean environment, needs to be greatly reinforced.
People are perhaps less likely to litter in their own neighborhood if it affects their own way of life, but will not display the same courtesy when visiting other neighborhoods.
I remember about a year ago, while walking my dogs, I saw someone open a package on Marcus Street near the Jerusalem Theater and throw the wrappers on the ground, even though there was visibly a garbage receptacle within about 100 meters of him. I saw this and asked him to pick it up and throw it in the bin, to which he complied.
However, I also asked him if he lived in the neighborhood, to which he answered in the negative, and then asked how he would feel if I came into his neighborhood and threw litter – to which he reluctantly admitted that he would not like it.
Until people realize that throwing litter, whether in their own or other people’s neighborhoods, harms us all, it is very hard to stop their misbehavior. The police have more pressing matters than issuing fines for such transgressions, and municipal workers are so thinly stretched they will not succeed in catching more than a small number of them.
So what can be done? In order to educate people, it needs to be done at as young an age as possible. As part of their civics curriculum, schools should have lessons on the importance of a clean neighborhood, both for daily living and for the state of the environment in general, and both for the present and for generations to come.
The Environmental Protection Ministry offers Ne’emanei Nikayon (Guardians of Cleanliness), with a short training program for volunteers over the age of 16, which then provides them with the authority to assist the ministry in enforcing the law by reporting transgressions that they witness directly and permitting them to request the name and personal details of the person littering to file a report.
I understand that the world that we live in is so fast-paced; people are often in a hurry and think how much easier it is to throw that cigarette butt or coffee cup on the ground rather than look for a garbage can (of which there are usually plenty in close proximity). But let’s all try and slow down a little and think of the effects of throwing that piece of litter on the ground. Not only does it make our living environment less beautiful and healthy, but it is likely to encourage other people to litter, thereby exacerbating the problem.
As Malcolm Gladwell explains in his seminal book The Tipping Point, “Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread like viruses do,” citing the examples of the steep drop in New York’s crime rate after 1990 and the concept of the broken windows theory. The theory states that maintaining and monitoring urban environments to prevent petty crimes such as vandalism, public drinking and toll-jumping helps to create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, thereby preventing more serious crimes from happening.
The same is true of littering, as people are far less likely to do so in a pristine environment, not wanting to be the first transgressor, than in a place that is already filthy and where no one will notice that one extra piece of trash. So let’s all take that extra half minute to throw that chocolate wrapper or paper cup away in the nearest garbage receptacle, instead of on the ground, and say “good riddance to bad rubbish.”