I wasn’t expecting to write so much about anti-litter messaging this week, but apparently ideas are like buses and three have come along at once.
But those who choose to leave their rubbish behind have very different attitudes and mindsets, and each person will have their own motivations for why they make the choice they do. I think we need to start looking at some of the most littered brands—Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, Monster and Redbull—to see what messages people are responding to. How can the same levers be pushed? What imagery encourages people to act? What emotions are they tapping into?
Then there’s the WHEN. Most anti-litter campaigns are based on sporadic posters that are easy to ignore because they lack salience. What if we found a way to send a message about the correct behaviour during the potential littering incident?
Finally, the WHERE. I see a lot of anti-litter messages (and make quite a few myself!) because I care passionately about cleaning up this beautiful planet. But where do those messages end up? On Litter Twitter (or Facebook), an echo chamber full of lovely people who are just as passionate about stopping litter as I am. I can guarantee none of my mock ads or my blog posts are reaching the people who are likely to litter in the first place.
Instead, the placement of a campaign is vital to ensure that the message is reaching the right people. For example, Facebook allows hyper-targeted advertising: perhaps a crowdsourced campaign could concentrate on young men aged 16-25 who have liked the Monster Facebook page? Or maybe creative anti-litter ads could play before YouTube videos for the desired demographics? How can Twitch or other gaming platforms be utilised, or people the target demographic admire be roped in to deliver an environmental message?
Supermarkets, petrol stations, drug stores, or any place that has a cooler section to sell sandwiches and meal deals could have clear posters warning about fines—this is the last chance to catch this type of packaging before it turns into litter. Could football stadiums make the point that littering is an own goal, and that supporters should put their litter in a bin instead of leaving it at their seat? Ditto for trains and buses, cinemas and theatres. What about requiring fast food restaurants to advise their customers that litter must be taken home or binned, especially at drive-throughs?
Right now, there are parallel conversations taking place. Those of us who regularly rail against litter are complaining to each other about the problem at (socially distanced) community clean ups or on social media, using hashtags and accounts that are unlikely to be seen by those who most need to be housetrained. And those who leave behind the litter? Well, I’m not sure what they’re talking about, but I can almost guarantee that it’s not rubbish or how their behaviour affects others or the environment.
I can blog about this until I’m blue in the face or fingers, but unless action is taken by those who have the power to do so—genuine enforcement with higher fines or more creative consequences (points on a driver’s license perhaps?), nationwide environmental education at all age levels, and widespread messaging that hits the right target—then we will continue to have the same discussions, with the same people, year after year. And I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a message that’s heading in the wrong direction.