Roads are not dustbins

Rubbish gather at roadside close to traffic lights
ONE sunny afternoon, I was driving behind a motorcyclist. From the large envelopes sticking out of his shoulder bag, I guessed that he was a dispatch rider. We stopped at the traffic lights and I saw him drinking through a straw from a plastic bag of iced drink. Ah… very refreshing in this humid weather!

When the lights switched to green, we turned in the same direction with him still ahead of me. Suddenly, his arm swung out in a wide arc and I saw the plastic bag fly through the air, crash land and scud to a halt on the curb while he coolly rode on. To him, the road was his dustbin!

Thereafter, each time I stopped at the traffic lights, I found myself inadvertently inspecting the surroundings. To my disgust, I found that, at almost every traffic stop, there would be a shocking variety of rubbish lying on the grassy curbs. Among other things, I saw cigarette butts, crushed cigarette packs and tetra-packs, sweet wrappers, plastic bags, ball-pens and bits of paper like name cards and old receipts. From the amount of litter, it looked like people were using the waiting time at the lights to dump their trash!

At a recent event held in Johor Baru’s beautiful Danga Bay, a promoter was distributing flyers to passers-by.  I watched a youngster with a flyer gesturing to his mother that he wanted to get rid of the unwanted flyer. Without a halt in her steps, her indifferent reply was “buang lah!”

Immediately, the youngster released his grip and the flyer floated to the ground. The youngster sensed my cold stare and when his eyes met mine, he awkwardly retrieved the flyer. I didn’t know where he threw it later but I hoped he had learned to be more civic conscious in a public place. As for the mother, well…

Debris washed up on a beach at Tg Balau
Children emulate their elders and learn from them. Look at it any way but the big picture is still ugly when youngsters grow up with the same bad attitude as their elders and throw rubbish indiscriminately. Such incidents made me wonder what parents and schools are doing to inculcate the habit of putting rubbish in the right place. Sadly, I realised that the bike rider, car drivers and that youngster and his mother were among thousands who think nothing of littering at public places.

As a progressive 51-year-old nation that’s aggressively promoting tourism to an international audience, we must change our attitude towards rubbish disposal. There’s no point in building world-class facilities when people still have a third-world attitude.

It would make a world of difference if we put trash in the nearest dustbin. If one is not available, just keep it until you can dispose of it properly.  It’s a matter of discipline, civic awareness and the right attitude to keep our environment clean. So begin today and set a good example for others to follow!

This article was first published in The New Straits Times, Travel Times on 15 September 2008

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