How do you get through to a stranger? How do you diplomatically persuade people that what they are doing is “wrong”, and that there exists a better option?
Recently (within the past few days), I have noticed cigarette butts appearing and accumulating on the landing of the stairwell in my apartment complex. I am not home often, and have not seen anyone smoking, or anyone in general for that matter.
(Again, please excuse the shoddy photo, it is taken with my phone’s shoddy camera for the sake of documentation.)
It is sad to admit, but I am not really acquainted with any of my neighbors. I smile when we pass, but we don’t talk. I am the outsider, the lone white girl, but I am okay with that. Except when someone deliberately disrespects the communal grounds, and the environment. Now I wish I had a better relationship with my neighbors so that I could have a cordial discussion about this issue.
In general, it seems that only I and the apartment across from me use this stairwell. My old neighbor who I had known moved out, and someone else has just moved in. Unfortunately I have yet to see them to greet them and make acquaintance. And now the cigarette butts have appeared, and they are the most likely culprit. I am not sure how to go about welcoming them and addressing the litter without coming off as unfriendly. I work the 2nd shift, so I can’t go knocking on their door after work to make introductions. I’ve kept an ear to the door all night hoping that I could finally meet them.
This is a recurring theme for me: How to address a stranger’s/non-friend’s ignorance/apathy/negligence of being a responsible being with regards to the environment. I have had much issue particularly with roommates of my past. Sometimes it worked out great, usually not. In general, if people don’t want to change, they won’t. And they definitely won’t do it if you’re telling them to. You really do have to change their way of thinking, or at least convince them that they benefit in some way. These experiences are for later posts.
What I do know is that signs, in general, do not work. Your message will always come off as offensive because you are calling them out for an action and want to correct it. Sometimes, the offended become spiteful and now you have an even bigger problem.
I think that welcoming my neighbor with a clean-up-your-trash would be rude. If I can’t talk with them in person, then I do not want to leave a letter. As people always say, “Why can’t you tell me to my face?” Well, I would, if I ever got to see your face.
So, my original idea was to write with chalk “this is disgusting” and point to the cigarettes. Maybe use a child’s handwriting. But, I don’t want to be childish or rude, this is college roommates anymore. Also, I couldn’t find my chalk. My second idea was to write a message, tape it to the handrail, then put a pot out there for them to use as a temporary ashtray. I would stick the letter and the pot out there, but I would not touch the cigarette butts. They are disgusting. Also, you risk setting a precedent as they will expect you to continue to provide the same service. And you will never be thanked. (But that’s another story).
This is the letter I ended up writing:
How would you react to this message? I felt as if I would possibly not receive the desired effect, and even if I did, my neighbors would probably loathe me.
So instead of leaving the letter, a pot, and the butts, I decided to try another tactic. I would just leave the pot. And it was going to be a tiny pot, because they won’t empty it until it is overflowing (if they are a decent human). So the larger receptacle, the longer before they have to empty it (I find that generally people who litter also wait until a receptacle is overflowing before they empty it). That delay encourages them to be more lazy, which means they are less likely to empty it when the time comes. (Another lesson learned from that same story I mentioned earlier).
Also, I thought it would be best if I put the butts that were already down there into the pot. So I got out my gardening gloves and went down there to do the deed. When I said tiny, think of a “1/2 cup size” pot. The 5 butts already nearly filled the pot. It is a pretty-ish pot, with rainbow strips painted around it.
I think my message is explicit without being rude. I am eager to see what happens.
This isn’t my first time dealing with neighbors and cigarette butts. Last time, the situation was much worse, and I really had no choice but to contact the authority (the rental agency). While the result at first was promising, it quickly went downhill like most environmental issues because ultimately the rental agency didn’t care unless I was breathing down their back. The place never got cleaned up, the kids still litter cigarette butts as if their magic bean seeds, but they do have more of those large communal “ash trays” (no, I’m not referring to the “picnic area”) that at least counter a small fraction of the pollution.
Read the details of that endeavour, along with my personal take on cigarette butts, here.
Remember, cigarette butts are litter. Please be a responsible, respecting citizen and throw them garbage bin. If necessary, carry a little mint-tin on you to store the butts until you find a bin.