Littering: A common tragedy


LAST Saturday, the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan held a campaign rally at the Alonte Sports Arena in Biñan City. thousands of people from all over the province attended the event. The venue was packed, and outside were more people still. However, the trash bin-to-person ratio was abysmally low, and the bins were not that large. Garbage was accumulating in every corner faster than the cleaners could clear them up.

It was perplexing how people couldn’t take home their trash in the absence of a trash bin. That cleanliness in public spaces doesn’t come automatically, that municipal ordinances penalizing littering need to be in place tell something about how differently people behave inside and outside their homes.

Enter the tragedy of the commons. This concept was introduced in 1968 by the late American ecologist Dr. Garrett Hardin in a scientific paper. It states that rational users of a common resource tend to maximize their gains, often taking more than what they need, which results in the degradation or ruin of the resource. When it comes to pollution, it is the reverse. Rather than taking something out, it is putting something in, often more than what the environment could break down or contain, which also leads to degradation and ruin.

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Rational thinking would prompt people to choose the fastest, easiest, most economical, and most convenient way of doing something to maximize individual gain. In this case, it is easier and more convenient to throw trash into the public space and have the street sweepers deal with it rather than lug the rubbish around until a proper place to dispose of it could be found. Sometimes even if there is a trash bin around, it is still more convenient to just toss the trash to the side than walk up to the nearest trash bin.

In the short term and on an individual level, the impact on the environment may be insignificant. But if every single person in even a small community would litter the surroundings over an extended period of time, the effects can be tragic. Come rainy season, all the improperly disposed trash will clog the sewers and waterways, and what will follow is flooding. Remember the saying: “Ang basurang itinapon mo, babalik din sa iyo.”

Perhaps there need to be higher fines against violators and stricter implementation of ordinances. But what is needed more is a change in how people think about pollution. Unfortunately, many Filipinos do not see beyond their own bubble — if the trash is not on our property, it is not our problem, or somebody else will clean it up anyway. This is a stark contrast to the Japanese spectators who brought their own garbage bags and picked up their own trash after watching the World Cup last year, leaving the stadium as clean as they found it.

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Three years ago, the Filipino people were sold on the idea that change was coming. And it is still a promise that echoed through the arena that Saturday night. People want change but nobody wants to change. No matter who gets elected, if the old ways persist, the country will never get off the highway to environmental hell.

After the program, the arena quickly emptied of people who were probably too tired to pick up after themselves. Paper cups, plastic bottles, food wrappers, and campaign paraphernalia littered the premises. Among the last ones to go home were probably the cleaners.

Kimmy Baraoidan is a photojournalist from Los Baños.