I WISH Zari Malaysianna “Clean up your act and portray the right image” (The Star, April 26) and others godspeed in their efforts to reduce litter in Malaysia but I believe any such campaign will fail for several reasons.
First, Malaysians resist top-down official campaigns, whether it is for car-pooling, recycling, or traffic safety. Malaysians tend to ignore civic imperatives and imitate what they see around them, and what they see is chronic, epidemic littering. How can you change that? Classroom education for children is no more effective than driving lessons are for adults in curbing bad behaviour. Witness children throwing garbage from school buses, for instance.
Secondly, enacting anti-littering laws without enforcement is like whistling in the wind. The fastest way to collect a mountain of garbage in Malaysia is to post a sign threatening a RM500 fine for dumping garbage. We all see people brazenly dumping trash out of their cars in parking lots and on the highway. They know, and we know, that there is almost no possibility of punishment.
Lastly, and more importantly, the problem of litter will not disappear because for most Malaysians, it is not a problem: it is invisible.
It is such a fixed feature of any Malaysian landscape that most people do not see it any more than an Eskimo sees snow.
For example, go to the Klang bridge, stop 10 Malaysians, point at the river and ask, “What do you see?” They will probably answer, “The river.”
Pose the same question to Japanese or Dutch tourists and they will say, “A flowing garbage dump.”
How do you change a problem which is not seen as a problem?
This blindness is compounded by the fact that most people whiz through landscapes in their cars, and the flotsam and jetsam is never more than a blur to them.
I urge Malaysians to take a walk through any common area that is not cleaned daily at government expense, and witness the variety and volume of trash that is thrown at random underfoot. Or better yet, go to Klang and look at the river and its shameful accumulation of floating trash.
There is an old saying that in order to walk comfortably on the earth, it is easier to cover your feet with shoes than to cover the earth with leather. The same is true with littering in Malaysia.
It is not going to go away, and it is advisable to train the eye to accept and integrate it as just another facet of Malaysian life.