The Bitter Truth: Littering is a Jakarta Epidemic
Tasa Nugraza Barley
While I was hanging out with a friend at a public park a few days ago, I saw a group of teenagers having a picnic on a mat just a few meters away from me. They seemed to be having fun, talking and laughing with each other and enjoying food and bottled drinks, which they had probably bought at a nearby convenience store.
From the topics of their conversations, which I could vaguely hear from my position, I assumed these young minds were clever. But I was shocked to see what happened next.
One of them said, “Let’s go guys, we’re running late.” It was clear they needed to go somewhere quickly. What amazed me was that they left all the waste from their food and drinks right at the spot where they had been sitting.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. From the way they talked I was certain they all went to nice high schools. “Don’t they learn how to respect the environment?” I asked my friend.
It crossed my mind to walk over to them and say, “Hey, do you think this is a fast-food restaurant where you can leave your food and drinks on the table and let the waiter clean them up?” But I decided to take a deep breath and save my energy.
What frustrated me was they were educated young people who should have known better. And it wasn’t like the park didn’t have trash bins. In fact, there were several bins around the area.
On the same day, while I was driving home, I saw someone throw a big plastic bag out his car window. Since he was riding in a Mercedes Benz, I presume he had a good job and lots of money.
It’s confusing that people in Jakarta aren’t civilized when it comes to keeping the capital clean. What’s interesting is this behavior transcends all demographic groups.
The poor and the uneducated do it, but the rich and the educated do it too.
A lot of my friends complain that we don’t have enough trash containers in the city. I think we already have enough garbage facilities — just look around. And even if there is no trash bin near you, that doesn’t mean you can throw your waste anywhere you like. What you should do is keep your trash and throw it away once you find a bin.
This may sound like a simple job, but telling 10 million people to maintain Jakarta’s cleanliness is definitely not an easy task.
Perhaps you can’t blame this irresponsible behavior solely on the people. We all know how cruel this city can be.
It might be true that Jakarta is a big, wild jungle. In your small, private community, be it at school, at work or at home, it’s easy for you to behave well, but once you’re thrown into the real world of Jakarta, you suddenly turn into a completely different person.
While at home you dump garbage in the right place, you find it totally fine to do otherwise in public, simply because everybody else is doing it.
And it’s the city administration’s job to fix this problem.
Although its effectiveness has always been debatable, I think the broken windows theory, which was first introduced in the early 1980s, deserves attention from the administration.
The theory says that keeping the environment in a well-ordered condition can prevent further vandalism. According to the theory, a successful way to prevent vandalism is to fix problems when they’re small. In other words, you have to repair the broken windows as soon as possible to reduce the tendency of vandals to break more windows or do other damage. So the administration has to clean up the mess created by irresponsible people as quickly as possible to make sure that others won’t even have a chance to repeat the action.
It’s worth a try, I think, but I doubt the administration has enough of a budget to do so. The best we can do is try not to act like we own this city, because it belongs to everyone.