Putting Litter First: September

Using last month’s sporty Putting Litter First post as a springboard, the next areas I’d like to focus on are related: buses and trains, cinemas and theatres. What do they have in common with football stadiums? These are all places where it’s common for people to leave rubbish behind at their seat, either because they think that it’s someone else’s job to pick it up or they don’t associate their behaviour with littering.

The solution in these instances is similar to that outlined for sports: help people change their waste disposal habits. Doing this will require two things: time and energy. Habits and behaviours don’t form overnight, and they cannot be undone overnight either. Instead, it’s about ensuring that a constant and consistent message is broadcast in these venues.

This may mean regular announcements at the beginning and end of every show that all rubbish should be put in bins and not left at seats. After all, this is still done to remind people to switch off their mobiles! At cinemas, relevant advertisements could be shown before the film—perhaps different genres could be mimicked to get the message across. Imagine a regular video contest for schools at all levels to produce a 60-second spot that will be shown at their local cinemas: material like this could then become as much a part of popular culture as the old Orange Wednesday adverts.

Bus and train stations already use “See it, say it, sorted” for security purposes, and an equally clear—but potentially less annoying—instruction for disposing of rubbish on public transport needs to be delivered. Regardless of venue, the reminder of “Help us help you” needs to be pushed to the forefront to counter the idea that “litter isn’t a problem because it makes a job for someone”. If passengers or theatre/cinema goers want to do their bit to help others, simply remembering to clear away and bin their rubbish is a step in the right direction.

The goal of all these suggestions is to change the UK culture to one where there is no longer any grey area about what to do with rubbish: it gets taken home or put into a bin. Yet for any and all of the interventions discussed, there must be a willingness to adopt and measure the effectiveness of these practices for years. This is the only way to ensure that such messages cut through the noise of daily life—the bombardment of ads, our never-ending to-do lists, and an increasingly fragmented way of consuming media and information.

Who do you know who works in these types of places? Can they share potential problems they foresee by addressing the issue with patrons, or methods that have been tried to encourage proper behaviour? One of the aims of Putting Litter First is to understand what’s already done and what obstacles exist so that we can find ways around them: this is the only way we’ll be able to make future progress.

ABOUT PUTTING LITTER FIRST:

The year-long series Putting Litter First (so we can see the end of it!) is about trying to find a middle ground when it comes stopping litter in our communities. Often, it seems like there’s a false choice presented: those who are working to stop litter can either run a litter pick or they can lobby government for higher fines or for programmes like the Deposit Return Scheme.

The problem with this dichotomy is that most of us are already doing the first bit. We’ve been picking up litter from Chippenham for six years without a noticeable decrease in the amount of rubbish found. On the other hand, waiting for the government to get its act together with higher fines, sensible enforcement, and a proper Deposit Return Scheme feels like an exercise in futility. We can (and we should) campaign for these changes, but, at the same time, we must recognise that the outcome is outside of our control.

Instead, I think there are things that can be done at the community level if enough people are willing to step forward to help make it happen. A big part of this involves making sure that the right people are aware of what tools are available and not re-inventing the wheel. Interested in learning more? Sign up to have the latest Putting Litter First blog post delivered to you on the first of every month.