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New research by our Centre for Social Innovation has found the presence
of large, brightly-coloured items of litter – crisp packets, bottles, chicken
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.
The research is published today in the inaugural edition of our Journal of Litter and Environmental Quality.
Our ‘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 of litter, we then
planted ‘beacon’ items in one location, other smaller litter items, including
tissues and small pieces of paper, in a second and leaving a third area
litter-free as a control.
We monitored the sites 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
In places where the ‘beacons of litter’ were present, we 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 who littered was 17%.
We 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.
Journal of Litter and Environmental Quality is available to download now.
Keep Britain Tidy is a registered Charity No. 1071737. Registered as a Company limited by guarantee in England & Wales No. 3496361. Registered office at Elizabeth House, The Pier, Wigan, WN3 4EX.
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