Villiers Street: The Sequel

As you may have seen on Twitter last week, I paid
another trip to Villiers Street to see what Hubbub was up to as part of their
#NeatStreets campaign. They had
certainly been (bin?) busy since my previous visit in June.  Indeed, the first thing that catches the eye
is their bright bins: I saw pink and yellow, and a blue one is shown on their
website.  As you may have gathered from
recent blog posts, I do think more could and should be done to draw attention
to bins, so I am very curious to hear whether this has had any impact in
reducing litter on the street.

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I thought the “Vote with your butt” ashtray was particularly
creative.  They change the questions
every week, and this seems like the type of thing that would be perfect on the
outside of a pub or club.  Or, to be
honest, anywhere that people gather to smoke.

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I do have mixed feelings about a poster campaign I spotted
though.  It is sponsored by INCPEN, which
describes themselves as “a research organisation funded by a group of companies
with a common interest in packaging, the environment and sustainable
development.”  I consider them the lobbying arm of the packaging industry. 
The truth?  Likely somewhere in the middle.

While I agree with their underlying message (litter breeds litter),
their focus on gum and cigarette butts feels distracting at best and dishonest
at worst.  For example, their 50% figure
– how is it calculated?  It’s certainly
not based on litter volume.  Where
is it calculated from?  Because I know
from personal experience of collecting litter in Chippenham for the past year
that there are many areas with nary a butt or piece of chewing gum to be seen … but plenty
of sandwich cartons, candy bar wrappers, and drinks containers.  In terms of visibility, my feeling is
that the cigarette butts/gum are not what cause the norm to be set, but rather
all the “big” rubbish that can be seen at a glance.  I am not questioning that cigarette butts are the number one littered item in the world … but I do wonder whether they should be the face of a general anti-litter campaign.

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I admit, the pixellation made me chuckle.  However, in my experience it’s cans and bottles that tend to multiply like bunnies, and are the reason we use the word “nest” to refer to areas where they have all congregated.

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Again, my feeling is that people see the large items already littered and think “What harm will a little cigarette butt/piece of chewing gum do?”  Admittedly, regardless of the item or its size, litter makes an area look uncared for and is an unnecessary expense for Councils to clean up.

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I don’t know about you, but I get a bit twitchy seeing all of the recyclables lumped in with general rubbish.  I am also not sure how effective the posters are.  I didn’t notice anyone looking towards them …
until they saw me taking pictures of them.
Then their heads swivelled to see what was so interesting that I had to stop
to photograph it.  Perhaps this is a bit of human behaviour that can be capitalised to get the message across? 

All this whinging aside, I do think it’s worth underscoring that
cigarette butts and gum are litter.  Smoking paraphernalia in general forms a
small but not insignificant amount of the rubbish we usually find: cigarette cartons,
cellophane wrappers from the cartons, Rizla wrappers, and so on.  I feel that the habit of tossing aside a butt
makes it much easier for smokers to then toss aside everything else that goes
with.  [As an aside, I don’t want to lump all
smokers in this category, as I know that many behave responsibly.] 

I also feel I should add that I don’t think packaging is evil.  It is necessary to transport products, keep food fresh and safe, and has become a necessity in our on-the-go culture.  However, I wish that packaging designers would give more thought to how their products are going to be used.  For example, tear off strips: they will end up as litter as sure as night follows day, even if the main package is disposed of properly.  Cadbury’s is one of the biggest culprits in this, with their purple “litter on the dotted line” design.  Why not have a package where it only tears easily halfway, and the strip is then somehow used to seal the item back up?

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Designers do listen, as seen in this recent article in the RSPB’s Nature’s Home magazine.  While I think hedgehog friendly packaging is great, wouldn’t it be better if the containers were safely binned where they belong?

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But I digress … I am encouraged by Hubbub’s attempt to try new things on Villiers Street, and I hope that a report is produced at the end of the #NeatStreets campaign so that we can see what worked and what didn’t … and potentially what can be imported to Chippenham.

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