A view of the Kampung Sembulan water village in Kota Kinabalu after a judge ordered it to be cleaned up, earlier this week. Pic by Izhari Ariffin
This billboard says ‘Detenido por cochino’, which literally translates to ‘Arrested for being a pig’. ‘Cochino’ also means ‘filthy’ in Spanish slang. Pic courtesy of the San Nicolas Council, Mexico City

There is a group of vigilante social media activists in the United States, which has declared war on litterbugs.

Armed with Facebook accounts, they post pictures and videos of garbage strewn on the streets and beaches, before going on to identify those who leave the trash behind.

Their endgame is to shame the culprits.

In Hong Kong, a marketing agency had taken samples of garbage from the streets, including condoms, cigarette butts and chewing gum, to a US lab to undergo DNA testing.

Combining the lab data with demographic clues from the litter, the agency created 27 composite portraits for a series of “wanted” posters put up throughout the city.

The campaign has reached nearly four million social media users worldwide.

In Mexico City, frustrated police officers secretly film litterbugs, branding the videos with the hashtag “#VecinoGandalla”, which means “person who takes advantage”. The recordings are uploaded onto YouTube, with each clip garnering tens of thousands of views.

Authorities in another city in Mexico have also started cracking down on serial litterers. Those caught littering three times are arrested, and end up getting their mugshots and names slapped on huge billboards for all to see.

Many have ended up on such billboards, which bear words saying they had been “arrested for being a pig”.

Closer to home, some local councils, namely those of Malacca and Kota Kinabalu, have taken the lead in cracking down on those who view open spaces as their personal rubbish bins.

In a landmark case recently, the Kota Kinabalu City Hall made history when it enforced the Anti-Litter By-Law 2005 and hauled five people to court for related offences.

To show that they meant business, the presiding sessions judge did not dismiss the case with a slap-on-the-wrist fine, but instead, insisted on going to the place where the culprits were charged with littering.

Judge Ainul Shahrin Mohamad visited the Kampung Sembulan water village, walking across old and narrow wooden bridges, and seeing for herself the mess that the accused had caused before passing judgment on the case.

The culprits — Nurazi Ahmad, 66; Norain Lamilah, 53; Mohd Diah Omar, 61; Norsidah Garingan, 57; and Salma (no last name), 29 — were charged with throwing rubbish out of their homes and into the sea.

They could have been fined a maximum of RM10,000.

However, instead of imposing a fine, Ainul ordered the accused to clean up the place. They were ordered to clean up their surroundings for four hours a day, for a month.

The judge revisited the village earlier this week and was relieved to see that it was relatively cleaner, compared with how it had been when the five were charged.

If anything, the case shows that innovative measures are needed to deal with serial litterers, just like what is done by the vigilantes in the US, marketing agency in Hong Kong and authorities in Mexico.

It cannot be denied that harsh and demeaning punishment is needed in dealing with people who litter like how they breathe: without thinking and all the time.

We should be ashamed for repeatedly failing to keep the country clean.

Despite the campaigns held and millions of ringgit spent to educate the public against littering, and repeated reminders on the importance of practising good hygiene, we still see the indiscriminate dumping of rubbish along roadsides, and in vacant areas, rivers, ponds, waterfalls and even the sea.

Take a walk on most streets, even quiet tree-lined roads with nice homes, and you’ll undoubtedly spot food packaging, cans, bottles, mangled plastic shopping bags and other waste strewn all over.

It’s the same in public places, picnic spots and other recreational areas.

In fact, it’s sometimes hard to find a place that has not been contaminated by litterbugs.

Thus, yet another report on a dirty restaurant in the city centre that was ordered to close last week was hardly a surprise.

As the story goes, the restaurant was cited for having its kitchen close to the toilets. A raid on the outlet showed that the kitchen floor was littered with food waste and the place looked like it had not been cleaned forever.

Simply put, the outlet was a disgrace, but unsurprisingly, patrons seemed oblivious to the unhygienic surroundings, even as enforcement officers were sealing the premises.

The fact of the matter is that Malaysians have become immune to the rubbish in their midst.

This is why I am quite sceptical about the waste separation law that has come into effect. If we can’t even get people to throw rubbish into bins after all these years, how on earth do we expect them to spare the time to separate their waste?

Already, we are seeing many stubborn households being issued summonses for failing to abide by the numerous reminders and warnings for them to heed the ruling.

Sharanjit Singh is a journalist who feels less talk and more action is needed to save planet Earth from mankind

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