Environmentalist calls for stiffer penalties against “filthy Guyanese” caught littering

Annette Arjoon-Martins

By: Amar Persaud

Detailing the harrowing impacts littering has on the ecosystem, environmentalist Annette Arjoon-Martins has issued a call for authorities to implement stiffer penalties for persons caught committing the crime.

“I think what is needed is for us to have some teeth that would bite really hard in terms of penalties for littering,” Arjoon-Martins contended during a recent interview with INews.

The environmentalist lamented that in many cases, the very Guyanese who litter here would travel to foreign lands and employ better practices.

“The majority of the problem is the filthy Guyanese that would just eat something and pitch it over the seawall, then it ends up into the ocean, the ocean is not like a big garbage bin that has a hole at the bottom that everything goes there, it affects the animal life,” she expressed.

“And then the same Guyanese would go on an American Airlines flight to New York and wouldn’t even take a chocolate wrapper and throw it outside because they know there’s big US$500 fine coming!”

Arjoon-Martins recalled an incident whereby she confronted a litterbug and the corresponding aggressive response she received.

“I was there the other and I saw somebody dumping a fridge and freezer over the seawall and when I spoke to them about it, it’s almost like I got beat up,” the activist recounted.

In addition to urging citizens to gain some perspective on why littering is bad, Arjoon-Martins posited that government needs to get stricter.

“The fix is by the government having some litter wardens who are empowered to go there and take measures and penalise people caught littering,” she explained.

Getting into specifics, she said the Transport and Harbour Department should also institute penalties for ferry passengers who dump garbage into the waterways.

“I’ve [seen] people on ferries pitching their garbage out into the Essequibo River or as far as the Barima River when it’s the North West ferry, and I think that if we have a big sign that says there is a penalty and the sailors on that vessel could enforce that ‘no littering requirement’, it would a far way,” Arjoon-Martins explained.

She posited that littering, especially the waterways, has a significant impact on marine life and she urged Guyanese to understand this.

“The turtles that eat jelly fish, they can’t differentiate between a floating plastic bag or a jelly fish, so when you go and eat that plastic bag by accident, what happens, it gets stuck in their stomachs and basically they can no longer feed so they end up starving, a slow and painful death.”

‘Similarly, you also have other animals that we’ve seen ingested. When you look at their stomachs, when they wash up onshore, massive unbelievable amounts of plastic…so plastic pollution, especially as relate to pollution and the impact on marine, is devastating.”

Just last month, Minister of Local Government and Regional Development Nigel Dharamlall lamented the low prosecution rate of litterbugs, noting that it makes no sense increasing the penalty when the existing rules are not being enforced.

In this regard, he called on the Georgetown City Constabulary to enforce the law against litterbugs.

The Georgetown Mayor and City Council, under the Municipal and District Act, Chapter 28:01, is allowed to fine persons $10,000 for littering while the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can penalise an individual for up to $50,000 while a corporate body can be issued a fine of $100,000.