Do not blame the public for the waste problem in the cities

Het Parool

The councillor of Amsterdam is tired of seeing waste next to the dumpsters. In fact, he even threatens to recover the extra cleaning costs from the people of Amsterdam. Robert Dur, Professor of Economics of Incentives and Performances at Erasmus School of Economics, believes this would be a very bad idea and says the responsibility lies with the municipality.

Littered environments incentive for littering

Dur believes that the councillor should not point fingers to the public. Dur performed research on the phenomenon that people litter more in littered environments. Together with Ben Vollaard from Tilburg University, they conducted a natural field experiment in Rotterdam and found that people start to clean up themselves when public cleaning services are diminished. Nevertheless, the tendency to litter more dominates.

Bad example causes bad behaviour

‘The common thread is laziness,’ says Dur. However, he does not necessarily condemn this. In fact, he understands it, especially during this period when everyone has to stay at home. ‘If you live in a small place and you cannot get rid of your waste immediately, you are constantly looking at the mess. Nobody wants that.’ According to Dur, the solution lies with the municipality. ‘Apparently, there is a need for more space to dispose of waste right now. In order to prevent the problem from getting any bigger, it is important to dispose of the waste as quickly as possible. Bad example causes bad behaviour. That's what you need to prevent.’

Effective solution

Seeing waste lying on the street invites similar behaviour, even when rules are violated. But it also works the other way around: if the municipality acts quickly by cleaning up waste fast, it creates an environment which radiates that it is not okay to break the rules. A possible solution is to increase fining and make it visible that the rules are being enforced, but the most effective way to solve the problem is simply by cleaning up the waste.

More information

The full article from Het Parool, 15 May 2020, can be downloaded above (in Dutch). 

Want to know more about Dur's and Vollaard's research? You can find their research paper here