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Behavior Change
US, UK Unveil New Strategies to Kick Littering to the Curb

Cleaning up supply chains and designing impacts out of products through the application of circular principles are essential components of reducing waste, but a more holistic approach to the problem of waste is needed. Consumers are increasingly educated on matters related to sustainability and recycling is more prevalent now than ever, yet litter continues to be a major issue across the globe. To initiate sustainable behavior change, the nonprofit Keep America Beautiful and the UK Government unveiled new litter strategies.

Keep America Beautiful has announced a new partnership with environmental charity Hubbub’s Neat Streets campaign to end cigarette butt litter in a creative and interactive way. Keep America Beautiful’s Cigarette Litter Prevention Program will pilot Hubbub’s Ballot Bin receptacles in five locations across the US this spring.

The unique Ballot Bins aim to keep streets butt-free by encouraging the public to use ash receptacles through a visually compelling, interactive message. It employs a “voting system,” which allows the user to vote on predetermined questions by choosing one of two slots to dispose of their cigarette butts. Each Ballot Bin has a window that displays the used butts, allowing the smoking public to generate a public opinion poll as they walk past the Ballot Bin. Questions asked are customizable and can be changed to reflect local interests or timely topics. Hubbub’s Ballot Bin program was first initiated in London in April 2016, where it saw a 46 percent reduction of cigarette butt litter in locations where the bins were used.

“Keep America Beautiful is in the business of behavior change and the team at Hubbub has demonstrated that the Ballot Bin offers an effective approach to reducing cigarette butt littering in the UK and beyond,” said Becky Lyons, COO at Keep America Beautiful. “Our network of 620-plus affiliates and other community partners, serving urban, suburban and rural communities, are a snapshot of America. We look forward to bringing the Ballot Bin to communities across the United States as we strive to build upon the success of our Cigarette Litter Prevention Program and advance our fight to End Littering in America.”

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Keep America Beautiful affiliates and partners participating in the pilot program include:

  • · Curb Your Litter Greenpoint (Brooklyn, New York)
  • · Keep Coffee County Beautiful (Manchester, Tennessee)
  • · Keep Erie Beautiful (Erie, Pennsylvania)
  • · Keep Guntersville Beautiful (Guntersville, Alabama)
  • · Keep Manatee Beautiful (Manatee County, Florida)

In 2016, Keep America Beautiful’s Cigarette Litter Prevention Program saw a 62 percent reduction in cigarette litter. Survey results also demonstrate that as communities continue to implement and monitor the program, the reductions are sustained or even increased over time. Keep America Beautiful has distributed nearly $3.3 million in grant funding since 2006 to support local implementation of the program in more than 1,700 communities nationwide.

Meanwhile, the UK Government has developed its very first litter strategy in an effort to clean up streets across UK and reduce the clean-up costs, which currently cost the government approximately £800 million each year.

In addition to rolling out various education campaigns, the strategy will introduce fixed penalties of £150 for littering and related offenses and producing new guidance on “binfrastructure” (the design, number and location of public litter bins and other items of street furniture) for local areas to help them reduce litter. The strategy also outlines a plan to protect waterways and marine life from pollution and continue building on the 5p plastic bag scheme.

Many businesses and non-profits view consumer behavior as a major obstacle to overcome and see the litter strategy as the government taking a step in the right direction to tackle the problem. But some remain skeptical due to the current absence of funding and what many see as a lack of ambition.

“The single most important thing that needs to be done to change the culture of littering in Britain — and make it socially unacceptable — is a sustained national behavioral change campaign. The government deserves immense credit for committing to this, despite the uncertain nature of its proposed funding,” said John Read, Clean Up Britain’s founder and director.

“However, the rest of the strategy might be characterized as being timid and lacking in bold and innovative measures. Britain is drowning in litter and the government has thrown us an ill-fitting and inadequate life-jacket. Litter is costing Councils and local people billions of pounds every year, seriously damaging the environment.”

Lord Gardiner of Kimble, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, admitted that the strategy is not a magic bullet and that the road to changing public behavior will be a long one. “My intention is that the Litter Strategy will be a spur to real action. We will need to continue to work together to deliver a lasting change in culture,” he says in the strategy’s foreword. “I encourage other organizations that want to work to be part of the solution to step forward and join forces with us. It is a venture that we need to succeed for the sake of our environment and our country’s reputation.”