Street litter includes all the waste materials that are thrown away irresponsibly, especially those thrown away in the streets. The smallest things, such as cigarette butts, up to the largest, like bulky waste materials, form part of such litter.

Litter in the streets is continuously increasing due to irresponsible people. This problem is not only found in Malta, but all over the world. In fact, according to the British website Kingdom, 60 per cent of the people in Britain drop litter and only 28 per cent of them admit it.

We went around Malta to collect evidence about what type of street litter is most common on our island. We found cigarette butts everywhere! Around trees, next to dustbins, on pavements… the list never ends! People are not careful to dispose of cigarette butts properly. They may be unaware that this tiny object takes very long to decompose.

Cigarette butts in the streets are unfortunately increasing nowadays. They can be seen everywhere, scattered along green spaces, sidewalks, roadsides and beaches. Worldwide, about 4.5 trillion cigarettes are littered each year. Cigarettes make up more than one-third, nearly 38 per cent, of all collected litter. Disposing of cigarettes on the ground or out of a car is very common – 75 per cent of smokers report doing it. Cigarette waste is considered very toxic for the environment. It leaches toxic chemicals such as lead and arsenic, a substance used to kill rats. These can contaminate water.

According to the online portal Truth Initiative, the inside of a cigarette may look like cotton but 98 per cent of it is made of plastic fibres. These are not biodegradable. Although they do not break down naturally, they can gradually decompose depending on environmental conditions like the rain and sun. Recent studies have found that a cigarette butt is only 38 per cent decomposed after two years. In Malta, we have many beautiful beaches but unfortunately, we often find cigarette butts and microplastics in the sand.

We carried out a survey to find out the opinion of Maltese people about cleanliness and litter in local streets. All the respondents agreed that street litter is a problem in Malta. but 61 per cent of the respondents think the general Maltese public is not aware of it. A percentage of the respondents think local councils work hard for the cleanliness of their respective towns, whereas people who think that the streets are dirty blame the public for its irresponsibility.

Cigarette waste is very toxic for the environment. It leaches toxic chemicals such as lead and arsenic, a substance used to kill rats. These can contaminate water

When asked about the main things that cause litter in the streets, respondents mentioned plastic, cigarette butts, bulky garbage, animal dirt, takeaway food packaging, face masks, empty plastic bottles, food for stray animals, tissues, junk mail, and garbage bags that are taken out on the wrong days and at the wrong time. Other responses include the fact that not enough dustbins are found in the streets, and the fact that people overconsume.

Many people tend to think that their home is just the house they live in, and they keep it perfectly clean, without actually caring for the environment beyond it. The lack of education among the public was also frequently mentioned. Litter in streets seems to be the most problematic issue, followed by litter in public areas such as playing fields.

The most common problems caused by litter mentioned by the respondents are the spread of diseases due to lack of hygiene that increases insects and rats in the streets and the release of unpleasant smells and toxic chemicals that might leach from litter.

A huge amount of litter can be recycled, including plastic bottles and drinking cans. Recycling plastic saves twice as much energy than burning it in an incinerator. Also, recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to run a television for three hours.

More worrying litter, such as broken glass, rusty cans and lit cigarettes that are left lying around can cost people and animals’ health or even more seriously, their lives.

The invisible costs of litter can affect us all. People living on littered streets could expect to see their house prices devalue.

If litter is already present around us, people tend to not see the harm in adding a little bit more. But if an area is clean people may think twice before they litter, and thus tend to keep the area clean.

Litter takes a long time to decompose. Plastic can take 1,000 years to decompose while a banana peel can take two years to do so if left on the streets.

Therefore, we should pay more attention to dispose of litter responsibly because this affects many aspects of life, such as the environment, the country’s economy and even our health. And litter is an eyesore.

In fact, many tourists who visit Malta comment on this beautiful island and its scenery, but a lot of them notice the lack of cleanliness.

Hale Bonello and Miraine Farrugia are Form 5 pupils at Our Lady Immaculate School, Ħamrun.

This article was submitted as part of the school’s participation in this year’s Litter Less campaign.


The authors referred to the following articles during their research:

What we can do to reduce litter in the streets

• Pet owners should clean up after their pets.

• Call the free Bulky Refuse service to collect your large waste items, instead of leaving them on the pavement or throwing the item in a remote place.

• Take out your waste out on the right day and at the right time for rubbish collectors to collect it.

• If you feed stray cats, make sure to leave the place clean after doing so, and place the cats’ food in a suitable container rather than on the floor.

• People in charge should also clean street culverts so that litter in the streets does not make its way through the streets when it rains.

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