Another summer of litter shaming?

20th of June 2017 Article by Lotte Printz
Another summer of litter shaming?

Should we rely on civil service employees to clean up after us? ECJ reporter Lotte Printz takes a look at summer littering in Denmark.

Summer is here. And hopefully temperatures and lots of sunny spells allow us to spend time outdoors, enjoying a can of beer by a stream of city lake or barbecuing in public parks. But who’s going to clean up? If we look at one of these areas after a hot day in Denmark, civil service employees are.

The problem of litter-strewn urban areas has become so widespread that ordinary citizens and celebrities alike have taken matters into their own hands, publicly voicing their indignation and taking a swipe at the “sinners”.

Last year a celebrity weatherman who lives in Copenhagen was taking his kids out for an ice cream and found grass areas covered in litter because people hadn’t bothered to pick up and discard their waste in one of the several litter bins the local authorities had placed at intervals of 50 metres max.

“Ugh!”, he wrote on Facebook where he also posted photos of the mess and hauled not only the litterbugs but also their parents over the coals.

“You’ve got to wonder why people throw litter and walk away without thinking about how disgusting it is and that other people will be using the place afterwards. It’s old-fashioned, I know, but it lies in the upbringing. Respect for nature, urban areas and other people is something your parents should teach you.”

His post was seen by more than 500,000 people and shared 4,000 times. A few days later he wrote another post: “I’ll be damned…” when the same place had been cleared up two days in a row. The Copenhagen weatherman has not reported anything disgusting so far this year. So perhaps his dressing-down had an effect?

Trying to change attitudes through this kind of people power is catching on. In Denmark’s second city, Aarhus, which also happens to be European Capital of Culture in 2017 – thus hoping to make a great impression on the outside world – many feel littering has worsened and is a big embarrassment to the city. “In Aarhus we don’t recycle garbage – we toss it on the pavement,” it says on one Instagram profile called #thecityofgarbage.

A young local businessman set up the Facebook page Skrald i Aarhus (litter in Aarhus) where he’s posting pictures of litter-strewn streets that he walks.

“When I buy a coffee to go, I buy it knowing that it’s my responsibility to get rid of the cup in an orderly way. I don’t get it that it should be the municipality’s responsibility. As a matter of fact, I don’t think it raises people’s awareness of litter that municipality employees pick it up,” he says.

The municipalities in Denmark provide litter bins and manpower to clear up public places and Aarhus spends 30 million Danish Kroner annually on scattered litter and the like. Some reckon 10 of those could be saved if people didn’t just leave litter lying around for others to pick up. And once the municipality left all the litter lying on the streets for a whole weekend, visually exposing citizens to their own mess.

This summer could reveal whether we are actually learning from these verbal and visual attacks and have improved our ability not to miss the litter bins.

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