A few weekends ago I went on a day trip with a friend in a travelling group to the beautiful Ngare Ndare Forest. After arrival, we got the Kenyan wildlife instruction starter pack from the ranger in charge. I sadly can’t remember the name of this good-looking wildlife hero, but what he said stuck. He introduced the ranger, who would accompany us, told us a bit about the canopy walk and stressed the point that there should be no littering – specifically pointing out our newly owned water bottles: “Everyone who goes in with a bottle, should bring it back again“. Halfway through the hike, after a mean upwards slope, my friend sat down panting to catch her breath. I handed her the water bottle I was carrying for her. She removed the small plastic condom around the lid of the bottle and… drops it to the ground. My immediate reaction was grousing at her: “No Littering! What’s wrong with you?“ People around us start laughing, she picks it up and says „Alright litter police, it was unconscious.“ The rest of the trip I was mocked as the litter police.
But that right there is one of Kenya’s biggest problems. Tourists are easy scapegoats and are blamed in the majority of discussions around the topic for littering in the Mara and other beautiful wildlife sceneries. I am not saying they don’t, but Kenyans themselves play a big part in it, too. Starting from individuals in villages and cities to hospitality staff. Often it is defended with that it was unconscious or that someone will collect it. It seems the moment the unwanted problem touches the ground the responsibility moves to the next person and favourite the government and the mismanaged waste management. I believe everyone would be happy if garbage elves would roam the forests and streets at night to collect all the waste and Kenyans can wake up the next morning to a clean and glitzy country. Sadly, unless someone finds a way to grow those elves in a laboratory litter is everywhere and the litter police (me in shiny green armour with a few leaves on my head) will be needed.
As long as people don’t put a thought into simply dropping plastics and other wastes on the ground to get rid of it in lightning speed, countries such as Kenya will sadly stay smudged by garbage almost everywhere. Even in better neighbourhoods, plastic and other packaging products can be found occasionally decorating the sidewalks and bushes.
The incident in the middle of the forest got me thinking. For my littering friend, it was no option to carry it to a dustbin in her pocket in that moment. The newly implemented plastic ban is the first step to find a solution to better manage waste in all areas of Kenya, but it is by far not going to do the trick alone. Mindsets need to change.
Me being proud and shiny (admittedly also sweaty and dusty) litter police is a start. Everybody in our group was aware (at least thought so) that I am watching them and that I will call out litterers wherever I see them. And maybe that is what Kenya needs and all other countries, which are struggling with freely littering populations. Instead of putting high fines on people using plastic bags there should be fines on throwing them openly around. This should include bottles, paper, basically, everything people drop without thinking. But penalties alone will not work. Parallel it should be taught in schools and programs to clean forests and wildlife areas can support the education on littering. Just with a plastic bag ban, Kenya will not get hold of its waste management and the ever-present litter along roads and in the middle national parks.
We should not forget that littering is not the problem of wildlife rangers, animals, and tourists but that it involves everyone – Nairobi slum areas being another example for the importance of caring about where your garbage goes. A litter-free environment is beneficial in many aspects: life and health quality, tourism, wildlife and animal protection, to name but a few. Furthermore, who wants pictures of their holidays at rivers and lakes, while yoghurt cans are romantically floating by?
I would love to see more people joining the litter police because currently, I feel pretty lonely with my leaves blowing on my head, watching with hawk eyes people dropping their bottle condoms and in the worst case the plastic bottle itself. To stop littering is something that doesn’t require money only a little consciousness. And it is possible and most likely not that hard. After all, you don’t throw garbage on the floor in your own home (an offence like that would most likely end up in a spanking from your mum) or anybody else’s home, so the knowledge of how not to do it is already there. Just take this attitude with you when you are outside of a home.
Guest Post by Kris G