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Litter is a facility management issue

When we think of facilities management (FM), we often think of management including maintenance of infrastructure, and rightly so. And when we think of litter and, in particular, the littering of public spaces and defacing of public buildings, we do not think of FM.

Those two are not immediately linked in our minds. The link struck me more vividly after visiting Kigali, the picturesque capital of Rwanda and Singapore– and how thoroughly I was impressed by the cleanliness of the two cities.

The streets, roads and all public buildings were sparkling clean, immaculate and devoid of any litter. In the case of Singapore, two things come to mind, the government’s near obsession with maintaining Singapore as, arguably, the cleanest city in the world on one hand, and the seemingly absurd laws and punishment in place to ensure that the city’s cleanliness is maintained.

Hefty fines, imprisonment, public humiliation await citizens and foreigners who breach such laws, including those spitting in public, littering the streets, urinating in lifts/elevators and public places etc. Looking at Singapore and, in particular, Rwanda got me thinking.

Litter in public spaces is often and actually the first sign of decay in public infrastructure, a pointer of failed facility management strategy of both private and public sectors. This, indeed, is the case in Nigeria. From a FM perspective, what would be the worst-case scenario of keeping public facilities free from litter?

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We will have public infrastructure such as bridges, roads, public buildings being used as public toilets, thoroughly defaced with posters, streets strewn with litter, gutters overflowing with waste, including human waste. Apart from the unhygienic and dirty environment that citizens deal with everyday, this also indicates a general indiscipline in the populace which then translates negatively in other areas of private and public lives.

Apart from ugly sights, there are, of course, economic consequences to litter strewn cities/public facilities. Public buildings lose their value as government is not able to make money from them due to its inability to maintain them.

Government and private businesses alike lose investments as most investors will think twice about investing in a rundown built environment with abused facilities; an obvious pointer of indiscipline in the population, a disadvantage at all levels.

How can facility management support cleanliness of cities? Firstly, by FM practitioners coming together to support government to draft and pass into law stricter penalties for public littering and, more importantly, professionalizing FM within government in the management of public infrastructure, looking at both value to government and end users – bridges, roads, streets, public parks etc.

This will lead to more compliance of laws, accountability, promoting responsible citizenry through public education, increased revenue through savings, and I dare say, ensuring a safe and clean environment in all our cities.

Whilst waste management has been taken to another level with the establishment of government agencies such as LAWMA in Lagos state and other waste management companies, enough attention is not paid to littering which is a major component of waste management. This has led to an overall negative impact on the efficiency of waste management in Nigeria.

As a result of a lack of attention to littering, our cities remain in a state of uncleanliness with canals, waterways and gutters filled with accumulated litters over time. This leads to floods, unhygienic environment and diseases.

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