Prague City Hall imposes hefty fines for litterbugs

Prague City Hall has taken its toughest measures yet to clamp down on the capital’s litter problem. As of this Tuesday, those caught dropping litter could face a fine of up to 30,000 crowns (nearly 2,000 USD).

On this particular Tuesday Prague’s Wenceslas Square is looking spic and span, as well it might. Today is the first day of Prague City Hall’s new decree outlawing littering in the capital. Those caught throwing away their cigarette ends, spitting out chewing gum or dropping empty food wrappers can expect to be fined up to 30,000 crowns. There have been grumbles in the press that the edict is too stringent and limits personal freedom. But the councilors behind the idea don’t agree. They say they are only following an example set by other Western European cities - an example, they say, which has been proven to work.

The decree’s opponents have one other major bugbear. They say the edict has been badly publicized, and quite simply, that nobody knows anything about it. Tomio Okamura is from the Czech Association of Travel Agents. Speaking to me over the phone earlier today, he greeted the move, but not the way it had been communicated:

“We are very disappointed with Prague City Hall’s information strategy. Because nobody informed us about this law. We heard about it for the first time yesterday, and it comes into place today. Such an important law, such an important change should be publicized a few months in advance, because we have to inform foreign tourists about these new conditions for when they visit Prague.”

Prague Council responds that it did go public with the litter decree last month. The police have said that they will launch the anti-litter drive in earnest next week, giving litterbugs, in effect, one week’s grace. But will the police be confronted by a large number of confused tourists when they do step up their campaign? To find out, I asked a few nicotine-loving visitors to the capital whether they had heard about the fines:

“That’s a lot of money. I really didn’t know that, no. So I’ll have to be careful.”

And do you think it’s a good idea?

“In fact, yes. But then they should offer more opportunities for you to throw your cigarette away properly, I think. If you are allowed to smoke on the streets then you should be able to dispose of your cigarettes properly.”

Photo: Kristýna Maková
Did you know that that cigarette that you are smoking, if you throw the end of it away, you could be fined up to 2,000 USD?

“Now I know.”

And what do you think about that?

“I don’t like it, but I wouldn’t do that anyway.”

The Czechs that I spoke to were more informed, and more favourable about the idea:

That cigarette that you are about to light up, if you throw the end away, you could be fined up to 2,000 USD.

“Yes, I know.”

Really, how do you know?

“I heard it on the TV.”

“I think it is the best way, to impose fines for those who drop cigarettes and papers and chewing gum and so on. I think it is the best way.”

On the first day of the new edict, councilors and Prague inhabitants alike do seem to be quite optimistic about the move. But we’ll see if this mood lasts, or whether chaos caused by the lack of a tourist information campaign serves to rubbish the council’s decree.