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I’ve known for many years that graffiti will inspire other vandals to leave their mark, that a smashed window in an empty building will soon lead to all the windows being smashed, and that litter dropped, always makes it easier for others to drop their own litter. Something I didn’t know however, which I learnt from Keep Britain Tidy this week, is that brightly-coloured items of litter act as a beacon to litterbugs, encouraging them to add to the mess!
New research by the Group’s Centre for Social Innovation has found that the presence of large, brightly-coloured items of litter – crisp packets, bottles, chicken dinner boxes and sandwich boxes – act as a ‘beacon’, (giving others permission to drop their rubbish) and that keeping areas free from these ‘beacons of litter’ reduces overall littering.
Keep Britain Tidy’s ‘Beacons of Litter’ social experiment involved cleaning three areas in two locations - Stourbridge in the West Midlands and Stoke Newington in north-east London - so that they were completely free from litter. ‘Beacon’ items were then planted in one location; other, smaller litter items - including tissues and small pieces of paper - were planted in a second location and a third area was kept litter-free as a control.
The sites were monitored to see how people behaved and how much litter accumulated and the results were clear. The experiment was repeated six times over two weeks, with a total of 72 hours of observations monitoring taking place.
In places where the ‘beacons of litter’ were present, the researchers found 35% of people littered their rubbish. In the areas where the smaller items were placed, that percentage fell to 22% and in the control, where no litter was placed, the percentage littering was 17%.
The researchers also discovered that people were more likely to drop ‘beacon’ items if other ‘beacons’ litter was already present - 41% of people observed, dropped drinks containers, plastic bags and other ‘beacons’ items, but this fell to just 11% in the ‘other’ condition and 10% in the control.
The research is available at: www.keepbritaintidy.org
It would seem that those responsible for street cleaning, should perhaps focus in future on areas that are notorious for ‘beacon’ littering, to help keep our environment as litter-free as possible…
I, however, just wish we could find a way to prevent people from dropping litter in the first place!
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29th June 2017