Drivers, passengers pollute environment

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Along the Harare-Mutare highway, two empty mahewu (traditional beverage) plastic containers suddenly fly out of the rear window of a top-end luxury vehicle and roll onto the side of the tarmac.

The vehicle seamlessly disappears behind a curve, heading towards its destination while the two containers lie lifelessly on the ground, waiting to be blown away into thickets of grass nearby.

From another vehicle, an empty exotic beer can whizzes out of the driver’s window and splatters the last of its contents as it hits the tarmac and rolls away into the grass.

All along this highway which teems with vehicles all year round, the sides of the tarmac are choked with an assortment of litter from beer cans, kaylite, glass bottles, cigarette butts, plastics among others, much of which is not biodegradable.

Judging from the tonnes of litter on the sides of this highway, it is not far-fetched to say that Zimbabweans do not have a culture of storing their trash before disposing of it in appropriately designated places, especially when in vehicles.

It appears that the main point of concern is to keep the inside of a vehicle clean with little to no concern that litter can end up accumulating in the environment and causing damage that can last for centuries.

“People do not have a culture of taking care of their immediate environment. As long as their vehicle is clean they’re content,” Rudo Matemba, a motorist, told NewsDay.

Besides causing an eyesore and damage to the environment, throwing trash out of the window can obstruct drivers and potentially lead to accidents. Interestingly, most public transport operators have inscriptions inside their vehicles which encourage passengers to throw litter outside.

Another motorist suggested that if caught, culprits should be heavily fined so that they can stop the habit of tossing garbage from moving vehicles.

“When people choose to throw rubbish out of their cars or from buses, it clearly shows that they’ve a disregard for the environment so they should face the full wrath of the law,” said Tanaka Chikasa.

Chikasa said that public education, particularly targeted at young people outlining the disadvantages of throwing trash out of vehicle windows, was required to stem the spreading culture.

Litter, especially plastic, poses a serious threat to wildlife. It also ends up collecting in landfills or clogs rivers and streams when it rains. According to Environment minister Francis Nhema plastics are responsible for the deaths of 5 000 animals annually, including donkeys, cattle, sheep and goats.

“Once used, most plastic bags go into rubbish dumps but they still find their way into our waterways, parks and streets because they are non-biodegradable . . . their decomposition takes up to a 1 000 years,” said Nhema.

“An ingested plastic bag remains intact even after the death and decomposition of the animal, thus it lies around on the landscape where another victim may ingest it.”

Local filmmaker Tjenesani Ntungakwa concurred that an extensive public programme is required to ensure that people stop the practice of tossing trash out of car windows.

“Certain habits change out of public awareness programmes. Take, for instance, during the cholera outbreak, the habit of washing hands after ablutions was well campaigned for, and a lot changed as a result. Ideally, the same can be done about stopping people from throwing litter out of moving vehicles,” he said.

According to Environemtnal Management Agency (EMA)’s education and publicity manager, Steady Kangata, it is illegal to throw litter out of vehicles.

“The Environment Management Agency Act of 2002 makes it an offence to throw litter out of vehicles or placing it in a non-designated place. The owner of a transport conveyance needs to ensure that no litter is thrown out of his or her transport conveyance,” he said.

He added that anyone found guilty is liable to a fine of $20, and that EMA was already arresting some people found on the wrong side of that piece of legislation.

Kangata said that it was mandatory for all passenger vehicles such as buses and kombis to have a waste bin to stop passengers from throwing trash out of windows.