The consequences of neglect

Trash, litter, waste, and rubbish may be our actual four horsemen. We have almost as many words for what we throw away as the Inuit supposedly have for snow. We all face the same problems of lives spent leaving an unsightly trail.

As many of us work to improve our neighbourhoods and celebrate our communities, some can’t be bothered to carry a plastic cup to a bin. Children are allowed to drop garbage as they walk. In fact, children are encouraged in the lackadaisical littering by the somnambulant slovenliness of their supposedly more mature elders. What still shocks me, and shouldn’t, is that this attitude carries over into private homes and places of worship.

As you drive through Surabaya you will see high apartment towers, shining malls, mosques and churches. You will also see quite a number of ornate neoclassical and modernist homes. Many of these enclaves of large homes are ringed by gates and staffed with private patrols.

Even in these fortresses, and the schools and shops that serve them, the lack of care is evident. Tables and desks left strewn with the detritus of a task or meal. Trash piled against a wall or left littering church or mosque steps.

Parents, schools, and communities need to be on board for any change to work. Imagine the reaction from Mom and dad when the satpam tells the kid, “Hey, use the trash bin!” Even if it’s phrased as “please dispose of your trash in the appropriate receptacle”. (Insert correct translation as you like) In the west and in Singapore people have been conditioned not to litter, and of course there are fines. We see it here in Surabaya, and in Bali that quite a number of North Americans, Europeans, and Singaporeans happily relax their morality and social conscience while on vacation.

This isn’t about when in Rome … the long term consequences of our actions and inactions have to be considered. The same goes for us as visitors; you don’t litter at home, don’t do it here.

Locally, people will change, even in more traditional communities. They need to see viable alternatives and workable (within their capabilities and resources) solutions.

Governments and industry are happy to tout their respect for local/traditional wisdom as long as it keeps locals traditionally ignorant. Kalimantan, Sumatra, Lapindo, Bali’s water crisis and the mess that is Kenjeran beach are not the fault of villagers and tukang parkir.

Waste and neglect are not an enviable legacy to be left by any culture.

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