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With free market financial incentives and government providing options, the litter around us can get less and less, says Alford Hardy, Hardy Asset Management Consulting, Savannah, Georgia

I am an asset manager who deals mostly with medical equipment and systems. Proper disposal of equipment, batteries and spare parts are important whether a device has regulated disposal procedure, is resold or donated to a charity or Non-Governmental Organization. It is often part of my responsibility to help safely manage that transition.

In a healthcare environment, the hazards can range from the accidental release of stored patient information to chemical, biological and radiological. The direct and indirect effects from those hazards may result in financial loss, infectious disease, poisoning or cellular damage. Regulations help prevent accidents and reduce the risks of exposing patients, handlers and populations. Fines, local process and procedures help as well. But, perhaps, the best deterrents are positive financial incentives and awareness education. They definitely worked to change my behaviour toward disposing of things when I was a child. They work now to perpetuate career behaviour.

“It is an acceptable fact that no government can keep cities clean by mere enforcement of environmental laws.” That goes for rural areas too. I grew up in one. The area is graced with low hills and massive acres of farmland reclaimed by nature’s will. Now, only about 11,000 people live in the 1,700sqkm jurisdiction.

During my childhood, about 22,000 people lived in the area. There were times when the trash strewn alongside the road seemed well above levels possible for the population. It could get really bad for some sections. Mother often sent us out to pick up the litter near our house. Yes, the government posted signs declaring fines. There was little enforcement because too few officials covered the rural areas. People did not police themselves and there were no other options but burning or burying trash. Each had risks. For example, I saw an abandoned but usable water-well getting turned into a trash pit.

The government did something novel. It established rural trash collections sites instead of beefing up enforcement. There really wasn’t a huge announcement. Once the government set them out, people started using them. Financial incentives worked as well. My brothers and I recovered empty glass soft drink bottles. Merchants added a few cents to the purchase price of a soft drink as a deposit on the bottle. The result was that any returned bottle for a brand which the vendor sold netted a few cents. It did not matter if the bottle was purchased in another city or another part of the country. These bottles were this poor kid’s bearer bonds. I became incentivized in collecting money from deposits that I did not make. The merchants knew of and fully accepted the practice… and it was all legal.

One day, my schoolteacher announced that a campaign was underway. She gave us a slogan and taught us a couple of songs. She awarded us good badges for cleanliness and bad badges for littering. In regard to those students for which the bad badges did not work, there were other more negative incentives – cleaning tasks.

The teachers used fear in their education process… fear of disease. Because we were rural, we learned about testing water, where not to drink, and how to make sure septic tanks had no chance of contaminating sources of drinking water. She told us of the diseases and conditions we would get if we didn’t follow her instructions. It scared me. In turn, I think I scared my parents. I am not saying that scaring kids into a certain behaviour is the way to go; however, they absolutely do need to clearly understand what can harm them and what is safe. With education, free market financial incentives, and the government providing options, the litter got less and less.

In the present, my actions of an asset manager have greater potential for large benefit or tragic impact. Compliance is often mandated in some form though there are still not enough officials to monitor compliance. Partial recovery of the equipment cost remains a strong incentive. What makes the difference is that managers, users and maintainers are educated on the risks. Awareness of the risks tends to make individuals care enough to insure that equipment, supplies and parts are disposed off properly. And to this end, I believe Clean India Journal sends a great message on professional and personal levels of how the health and welfare of ourselves and our environment are inextricably connected.


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