Anti-Littering Campaigns: An Idea Whose Time Has (More Than) Come in Turkey and Iran

alborz mountains iran environmentalists littering photo

Iranian environmental groups are trying to clean up natural areas around cities. Photo via Green Prophet.

In the northeastern reaches of Turkey, outside the city of Kars, I came across one of the most bucolic scenes I'd ever laid eyes on in the country: a clear stream winding its way through a green, flower-filled meadow at the foot of a forested hill. I felt as if I'd been transported back to the mountains of California -- until I looked closer.Though the fields were indeed scattered with flowers, some of the bursts of color I'd admired from a distance turned out to be bits of trash. The ensuing disappointment was a familiar feeling. Just a few days earlier, I'd sat in a tea garden beside a river in downtown Kars, enjoying the peaceful setting and the flow of the water. And then I noticed how every bit of brush along the banks was draped with twisted-up plastic bags, presumably snagged as they floated or blew along.

Green Spaces in Iran are Cluttered with Trash
Fast-growing urban populations and the rapid spread of the kind of consumer culture that generates so much trash in the first place seem to have outpaced any type of consciousness about littering in Turkey, a problem apparently shared with neighboring Iran. Green Prophet wrote last week that litter is a growing issue in Iran:

During the past few years Iranian environmental activists have been worried about the great volume of trash which is polluting the environment around the cities and on far away mountains. With fast urbanization and population growth in Iran, the number of visitors to green spaces around the cities has increased, putting a strain on the environment with increased littering.

Groups such as Mountain Watch and the Alpine Club of Iran are holding clean-up days and encouraging local government offices to do likewise. They're also talking "face to face to the hikers who are careless about keeping the mountains clean."

turkish girls picking up litter kars photo

Girls in Kars wait to see if they've gathered enough garbage to win a prize. Photo by Jennifer Hattam.

I've seen enough picnickers leave absolutely everything behind, and enough garbage thrown out of the window as buses hurdle along, to know that's a message that still needs to be heavily promoted in Turkey. And lest we foreigners pat ourselves on the back too strenuously, it's good to remember that such practices were also commonly accepted in the United States not too long ago.

Public-Awareness Campaigns Changed Behavior in the U.S.
Trash started piling up along U.S. roadsides after the construction of the interstate highway system and it took public-awareness campaigns starting in the 1960s and 1970s to get across the now obvious-seeming message that littering is a bad idea. Calls to "Keep America Beautiful" used appeals to national pride to change behavior, something I like to think could work in Turkey too.

Or perhaps all that's required is a little good old-fashioned competitive self-interest. On that same trip to Kars, I watched as staff and volunteers with the KuzeyDoğa Derneği, a local environmental group, corralled area kids into two teams and offered the simple prize of a hat or T-shirt to those who could pick up the most trash from around Kuyucuk Lake. Off they ran, blue plastic garbage bags trailing behind them, squabbling with each other over who saw which piece of litter first and trying to snap up things that were obviously still being used to add to their trash totals. They came back beaming, bags full.

More about littering:
Slideshow: Ocean Litter - How Bad It Can Be
Join the Litter Patrol - Document 'Beach Don'ts'
Today on Planet 100: Litter in the Death Zone (Video)
Roadkill and Litter: How Tossing Your Trash Kills Animals
Fast Food Leaves the Most Litter
Cleaning Up Their Act - Anti-Litter Campaigns in Catalonia

Related Content on