Cleaning Up Georgia’s Garbage Begins in the Mind
26 November, 2015
Cleaning Up Georgia’s Garbage Begins in the Mind
Ask almost any Georgian politician or public figure whether Georgia is a European country and he/she will nod eagerly and probably go on a boring rant listing the reasons why. Ask any regular Georgian the same and he/she will bitterly laugh in your face.

“What surprises me most is my compatriots’ lax attitude towards littering, especially considering how clean their households are.”


What do most of us associate the words “European country” with? What is the first image that comes
to our minds? Well, let me guess: Smiling people, lovely houses and clean streets. We Georgians are jovial folks and our architecture is quite lovely, but keeping our cities clean is where we fail miserably. Regardless of where one goes, be it Tbilisi or the most backwater village in the country, trash is everywhere. It is hard to find a street that would not have cigarette butts, plastic bags, empty juice boxes and other consumer waste scattered about. Urbanites are too lazy to walk to the nearest bin, while villagers use rivers and streams as garbage dumps. Then they go and complain about pollution and Georgia’s poor environmental record to the government.

Even our tourist traps are swimming in trash, despite the abundance of bins in these spots, and I am somehow reluctant to blame this entirely on foreign slobs – Georgian churches and cathedrals see a lot of native visitors and pilgrims, many of whom apparently have no compunctions about leaving bags and bottles to mark their passage. The results of their pilgrimage lageotv.geter end up decorating local news websites’ front pages, with people calling their fellow Georgians pigs in the comment section and would-be tourists changing their intentions to visit the country upon seeing how little respect we have for our cultural and natural landscape.

What surprises me most is my compatriots’ lax attitude towards littering, especially considering how clean their households are. A housewife who meticulously scrubs the floor of her house every day has no problem with tossing a baby’s diaper out of the window; a driver who fusses about every single scratch on his shiny car’s leather interior casually throws plastic coffee cups on the driveway; a dog owner who freaks out the moment her pet tries to gnaw on anything unseemly is perfectly fine with it leaving “landmines” on the sidewalk. When confronted, their excuses usually amount to “street sweepers will take care of it anyway.” Some even get aggressive, saying that whatever they do with their trash is none of your business.

“Very little attention was and still is paid towards improving the general appearance of cities, towns and villages, which led people to believe that the shabby state of their surroundings was the norm.”

Just a few days ago, I witnessed a man who was walking down the street and carrying a Coca-Cola bottle in a plastic bag. Suddenly the bag tore and the bottle fell out. The man swore, picked up the bottle and went on, tossing the bag aside. He was standing a meter away from a trash bin when this happened. Prior to that, I’ve seen numerous people trying to play basketball with their trash, but not bothering to pick it up and put it inside the bin properly if their throw misses – apparently, it becomes cursed upon touching the ground.

Why do such things happen? I am inclined to blame the Soviet period and the nanny-state psychology it inculcated in people, but this regime fell 25 years ago and we still haven’t gotten our stuff together. It took Lee Kuan Yew far less time to turn a barren plot of land inhabited by people who herded cows in their apartments into an economic powerhouse of Asia while we, an ancient civilization, still struggle with issues that require nothing but common sense to solve. I suppose the reason also lies in the lingering depression left by the tumultuous 90s – very little attention was and still is paid towards improving the general appearance of cities, towns and villages, which led people to believe that the shabby state of their surroundings was the norm, resulting in a country-wide broken window syndrome.

“It takes decisive action to shake trash out of people’s minds so that they stop leaving trash in the streets.”

The solution for this is simple but brutal. Remember the seatbelt law passed a year ago or so? With patrol police carefully observing every single car that sped by and imposing draconian fines if they noticed the driver or the front passenger did not have the seatbelts fastened? Initially this law was deemed too harsh and invasive, but it continued to get enforced with extreme prejudice. At the moment, the enforcement is far more relaxed, but the effect it has had on local car owners is indisputable – almost everyone takes care to fasten his/her seatbelt before departing.

The same method should apply to littering. Our government has recently passed a law imposing fines for it, but I don’t really see it enforced. Unless the abovementioned housewife finds a ticket left at her doorstep by the police for the diaper she tossed out, unless the driver is pulled over and made to pay for the coffee cup he tossed out and unless the dog owner is made to scrub her pet’s excrement off the sidewalk, nothing will change. In some cases, soft nudging and dialogue need to give way to an iron fist – especially when public good is concerned. It takes decisive action to shake trash out of people’s minds so that they stop leaving trash in the streets.

Author: Zura Amiranashvili

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