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Germany

Frankfurt Cracks Down on Litterbugs

In an effort to clean up the banking capital, officials in Frankfurt are handing out stiff fines to people who don't clean up after their pets or otherwise dirty the city with their trash.

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Not in our town!

A pair of school-age girls toss cigarette butts on the ground. Unfortunately, for the young girls from Stuttgart, officers of the Frankfurt City Authority catch them in the act.

"That'll be 20 euros," officer Martin Ackermann tells the girls. "In the future, take a closer look. You're right next to a trash bin."

The girls look perplexed.

As part of the "Cleaner Frankfurt" campaign officially launched in June, Ackermann and Ursula Pätzold are doing their part in the fight against litter bugs.

"Garbage sucks"

Signs posted across the city warn potential litterers: "Garbage sucks. We're afraid you'll have to pay up."

Offenders are slapped with heavy fines ranging from a relatively mild penalty of 20 euro ($19.56) for a cigarette butt to 35 euro for food that doesn't quite make it into the trash can. A stiffer fine is reserved for pesky pet owners. Not scooping your mutt's poop will cost you 75 euro in Frankfurt. But the most expensive infringement on the regulations of all is "bulky refuse" like couches or other unwanted furniture that people sometimes leave on sidewalks. If caught, these litterers will now be required to pony up a cool 150 euro.

"When it comes to garbage, cigarette butts are irritating," said Peter Postleb, who directs the city's clean up effort. "And some other small articles, such as cigarette packs, drink cans and pizza boxes are even more bothersome. We've come to the conclusion that people aren't using the ashtrays inside these small garbage cans. It's the most common infringement we've seen in the past weeks."

The litter police

In order to carry out the program, city authority employees have been extended powers and equipment similar to those held by police officers. They carry radio sets, handcuffs and handguns. The staff have the right to take perpetrators into custody if they become violent. Above all, Frankfurt officials hope the presence of the so-called litter police will make citizens more aware of the issue. They say that survey results show people feel more secure in clean cities.

"We've noticed more and more careless behavior in public areas," said Postleb, "And we believe that the presence of the litter patrol has led to a sudden increase in the sense of security in the city. At the same time we also hope, of course, that the city will become cleaner. We're not trying to use the fines to help restore the city's empty coffers. We want to educate people instead," he said.

The city spends more than 50 million euro each year on trash removal, and Postleb has said that each time the city increases its investment, the greater, it seems, the trash problem gets. Mayor Petra Roth of the conservative Christian Democratic Union made the creation of the project a major theme in her reelection campaign a year and a half ago. It's a project that gained a lot of sympathy among voters. In 2001 alone, the city had to pay to remove 1,170 tons of canine excrement and 16,000 pieces of bulky refuse.

Frankfurt currently employs 120 officers to keep a watchful eye on litterbugs. A further 60 will soon be added to the staff. But critics say it's too expensive, including officials in the nearby city of Darmstadt, where residents don't have to worry about being slapped with a fine for tossing a can.

"That's resorting to repressive measures," said Jürgen Partsch, a member of the Darmstadt city council. "It's not an instrument of the modern, open city, but rather one that stems from a reactionary view of society. Citizens are treated like offenders, like potential criminals, and not as partners."

But officials in the city are already pointing to the first signs of success. The strict controls have made the city more attractive to both residents and visitors, they say. A recent visit with officers patrolling the city seemed to support that assessment.

"What's it look like, any garbage, Campaign Cleaner Frankfurt?" Postleb asked his officers.

"Unfortunately, we haven't seen any perpetrators. Everybody's tidy," one officer responded.