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An endemic cultural malady

Environment Minister Jose Herrerà has declared war on litter louts. Announcing the government’s plans to repeal the Litter Act, which he said was no longer fit for purpose, by amending the Environment Protection Act, he declared: “With these changes, we will be tackling problems caused by those who just don’t care about the environment.”

The government is adopting a three-pronged approach.

First, it will ensure the fines imposed on those who break the law truly reflect the seriousness of their crime. The minister wants the fines to act as a real deterrent. Anyone repeatedly caught littering would face fines of up to €15,000 as penalties for the illegal dumping of garbage are to be drastically raised.

Litter louts will also be subject to higher penalties. Fines for those who dump litter in public areas will be more than doubled, with penalties rising to €300. Anyone caught tampering with waste collection infrastructure would be fined between €150 and €500. Repeat offenders risk being fined between €6,000 and €15,000, a substantial increase over penalties now in place. There will also be harsher penalties for those dumping litter in Natura 2000 sites.

A number of litter-related offences that had been decriminalised will again be considered a criminal offence.

The new regulations will also address littering during village feasts and open markets, where the hawkers themselves will be made responsible for clearing up their own mess and ensuring areas used are left clean.

Secondly, there will be stricter rules about when people can take garbage bags outdoors for collection, thus addressing the problem faced by many localities - especially those with many restaurants or other places of entertainment – where mountains of unsightly and smelly garbage bags are piled up in corners as families or business owners take bags outdoors at any time of the day. In future, people will only be able to take their garbage outdoors four hours before collection time. Perhaps this can be done late in the evening nationwide, also to avoid slowing down traffic.

And thirdly, the minister said, the new rules will be enforced by the police, the Local Enforcement System Agency and personnel of the Environmental Resources Authority itself. This is the Achilles Heel of the government’s plans.

The message must be conveyed through a constant process of public education, backed up by regular public information campaigns – especially through the medium of television - to instil a sense of pride in Malta, to induce people to change bad habits and to keep their country clean. Public education must be reinforced by a clear message that those who transgress will be severely punished, as, indeed, the new legal provisions will ensure.

The strict and effective application of the law is crucial to the success of the changes the government has in mind. Malta will not overcome this endemic cultural malady unless adequate law and order resources are devoted to it.

Merely saying the new rules will be enforced is not enough. The determined involvement of police officers and Lesa personnel, coupled with strict instructions to them to bring the full force of the law to bear on those breaking it, are essential.

Unless seriously determined steps are taken through a process of educational ‘indoctrination’ and rigorous law enforcement, the curse of littering will continue to tarnish Malta’s streets, countryside and reputation.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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