x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Municipality to put lid on litterbugs

Fines of Dh500 that were introduced to law in the 1970s are to be stringently enforced.

A street cleaner works at keeping a park on the Corniche free from the litter from family barbecues.
A street cleaner works at keeping a park on the Corniche free from the litter from family barbecues.

ABU DHABI // Armed with 50,000 brochures, 105 inspectors and fines of up to Dh500, the municipality plans to crack down on littering in coming months.

The news of the campaign to enforce the decades-old penalty pleased many residents, who said they were tired of finding empty bottles, plastic bags and cigarette butts in the city's streets and parks.

"It is disgusting to see, especially on the weekend," said Asmaa Refai, whose home in Al Markaziyah overlooks the gardens of Lake Park and the waste picnickers discard there. "Why not enforce a law like that?"

Salem Hassan, 24, from Yemen, went a step further: "It should be Dh1,000."

Khaleefa Al Romaithi, the director of the municipality's public health division, said a Dh1,000 penalty would be impractical, but he echoed the sentiment.

"Cleaning, it is everyone's job," Mr Al Romaithi said. "I put the responsibility on anyone who lives in Abu Dhabi … everyone should care."

The anti-litter law was created in the 1970s, Mr Al Romaithi said. Offenders may be fined Dh100 for spitting in public, Dh200 for discarding cigarette butts in the street and Dh500 for dropping chewing gum or other rubbish.

But many Abu Dhabi residents are either unaware of the rules or ignore them.

"So we start to enforce this fine again," Mr Al Romaithi said.

The public health department employs 80 inspectors who roam Abu Dhabi Island, handing out tickets for a variety of violations including littering.

The municipality has hired 25 more inspectors to start work this Thursday, Mr Al Romaithi said.

Between January 1 and November 15 this year, inspectors issued 1,856 fines for littering. They issued 339 fines for dropping cigarette butts and 209 for spitting.

Mr Al Romaithi expects those numbers to grow more quickly as officials hand out more tickets in conjunction with the awareness campaign.

The municipality began distributing anti-litter pamphlets on Sunday, starting at a labour camp in Mussafah. About 50,000 brochures have been printed, listing the fines in Arabic, English, Urdu and Bengali.

Next week, brochures will be given to people arriving at the airport, Mr Al Romaithi said, adding workers from the Asian subcontinent would be the main targets because littering was particularly bad in areas such as Mussafah, where many labourers live.

"These people who really do this mistake, throw garbage in the street, most of them are not educated," he said. "We want to just tell them this is not allowed."

But it is not only labourers who litter. The problem is also bad in parks, with families the worst offenders, several residents said.

Mr Al Romaithi agreed, saying families who barbecue often leave the surrounding area dirty.

He said the battle against littering was difficult because Abu Dhabi is a multicultural society, and "everybody brings his practice from back home".

Sylvie Mazert, 29, a newcomer to the capital, said: "It depends, perhaps, on the nationality. I am French. French people also do this. Cigarettes, it is easier for me to [stamp out on the footpath] than to put it in a basket."

But for paper or plastic litter, a fine is appropriate, Ms Mazert said.

"I think perhaps it's a little bit expensive but it's a good idea to have to pay this," she said.

The fine for spitting gum in the street is high because it takes special chemicals to remove it, Mr Al Romaithi said. The fine for public spitting exists because the practice is unhealthy and unsavoury.

Omar Ahmad, 49, from India, suggested the municipality should install more rubbish bins before penalising residents.

"It is a good idea, but in my opinion there should be proper facilities," Mr Ahmad said. "Sometimes I want to remove something, a water bottle I want to dispose of, but it is difficult to find a place. What do you do?"

And Ms Refai said officials should first alert residents about the fines, through advertisements or newspaper articles. But afterwards, they should be strict.

"It's for our health," said the retired teacher from Egypt who has lived in the UAE for more than 30 years.

"It's for the environment."

vnereim@thenational.ae