The psychology behind litter (and how to stop it)

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Littering by individuals is just an expression of a much wider selfish culture, says sociologist Professor Roger Southall.

Lester Kiewit interviews sociologist Professor Roger Southall of the University of the Witwatersrand.

Cape Town’s Spring Clean campaign ran throughout the month, with a focus on small amounts of litter in the city centre.

There is also great pressure to involve people in cleaning up their communities.

But why is there such a mess in the first place?

What’s the psychology behind throwing your grass clippings or building rubble, or smashing your stompia in a flower bed?

© mikefouque/123rf.com

Waste tells us a lot about community spirit, says sociologist Professor Roger Southall from Wits University.

In South Africa, there is a limited sense of “public interest”, he says.

When people litter… they are selfish. They disregard the wider community…put a cost on the community…so they don’t have to bear it themselves…

Professor Roger Southall, Sociologist – University of the Witwatersrand

If you don’t treat people with respect they are unlikely to respect you… Strong sense of resentment in many poorer communities… A matter of basic respect of one community for another…

Professor Roger Southall, Sociologist – University of the Witwatersrand

If you have nowhere to throw your waste… because there is no collection, what do you do?

Professor Roger Southall, Sociologist – University of the Witwatersrand

Kiewit interviewed Southall – scroll up to listen.


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