You Litter You Pay-Big-Time
When Singapore residents call their hometown a "fine city," they're not bragging about their looks. But the fines they mean-big-dollar punishments for "antisocial behavior" like spitting-can make the city look finer, too. Drop trash on the ground in this Southeast Asian city, and you'll pay $1,000. You'll also get a "community work order," forced labor designed to shame people the government deems litterbugs. The result: Trash's life span is short.
The country's litter laws go back to 1968, when its authoritarian prime minister tried to force civility on his country en masse with a "Keep Singapore Clean" campaign. Laws got tougher in 1987, with higher minimum fines, and again in 1992, with the work-order program, which has offenders pick up trash for no pay or else face a $5,000 fine. "Work is to be done under the full glare of publicity as otherwise the deterrent effect would be lost," says Maggie Chia, a customer- service worker with the country's National Environment Agency.
Taught in schools and promoted in mass public-education programs (antilittering banners are a staple of major public events), Singapore's culture of clean has become ingrained. So ingrained, in fact, that it has spawned hawks who would like the government to go even further. In a recent editorial, one writer, determined to prevent "Fine City" from becoming "Garbage City," stopped short of advocating jail time for perpetrators but did deliver an enthusiastic lecture. "Do you ... surreptitiously sprinkle those tiny parking coupon tabs on the floor?" he asked. "Stop it. Every little act counts."
This story appears in the March 26, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.