Study reveals differing definitions of litter for under-25s

Young people think it’s less acceptable to litter plastic and glass bottles than cans, according to an investigation carried out by Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) and Keep Britain Tidy (KBT).

The nature of packaging, as well as location, perception and social influences all play a part in the littering behaviour of young adults, said a report from the study, released yesterday (14 March).

Entitled ‘Soft drinks littering: Understanding and influencing young adult litterers’, the study surveyed 16-25-year-olds to better understand their litter behaviour and to provide suggested solutions to tackling the issue. The joint initiative identified 16-25s as those most likely to litter soft drinks, and the researchers combined behavioural observations with focus group interviews to determine their findings.

The results uncovered four key factors that are most likely to influence this demographic, with some ‘surprising perceptions’ emerging about what constitutes litter in the minds of young people.

Study reveals differing definitions of litter for under-25s
Personal influences: perceptions and values can dictate litter decisions

Discarding cigarette butts down the drain or leaving an item on a wall or bench was not seen as littering by many, according to the study. This led the researchers to believe that under-25s had differing definitions of littering itself, and they suggested targeted campaigns as a potential solution.

Campaigns such as Hubbub’s Neat Streets have explored different methods for raising awareness and preventing street litter. Recent initiatives from the group have included interactive bins and ‘vote with your butt’ boards for dispensing cigarette ends whilst displaying litter statistics.

Object influences: the nature of packaging can alter behaviour

According to the report, respondents perceived bottles, which are re-sealable and can be carried to consume and dispose of later, to be less acceptable to litter than cans. Glass bottles were also seen as unacceptable to litter because of the danger the material could pose to other people.

The solutions suggested were to develop more reusable packaging, and to encourage the purchase of these items amongst those most likely to litter.

Environmental influences: location matters – litter breeds litter

Those surveyed deemed littering close to home unacceptable, unlike publically-cleaned places such as town centres where the environment was perceived to be dirtier. Littering at festivals, cinemas and on the Tube was considered acceptable because they were cleaned regularly or no bins were available.

The report suggests redesigning or improving bin placement to make recycling or rubbish disposal more convenient.

Social influences: the risk and reward of judgement by others can sway behaviour

Participants admitted they would regularly litter when around groups of friends, but would almost never consider it in front of parents, a younger sibling, or on a first date. The solutions suggested to explore for this key issue were ‘positive peer pressure’. Introducing ‘pledge making’ into these types of campaigns has apparently already seen success in related areas such as recycling.

Understanding why people litter key to developing solutions

Bev Burnham, Senior Manager of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability at CCE Great Britain, said: “No one likes litter, but still it is an issue that continues to remain. As a business we have invested in a number of different initiatives and are proud to support organisations to promote anti-litter messaging and initiatives, investing in creative initiatives and in ensuring litter remains on the agenda at a governmental level.

“However, the issue of litter is something in which we all have a role to play if we are to address the related social and environmental challenges… we have collaborated with KBT on this report, and we work with other environmental groups, to help generate new insights to inspire and encourage a real step change in Great Britain’s litter habits.”

KBT’s chief executive Allison Ogden-Newton added: “Understanding why and when people litter is key to developing cost-effective solutions that will make the difference we all want to see, reducing littering across the country.

“KBT’s Centre for Social Innovation is focused on creating and testing solutions that will do just this and initiatives created by the centre have already made a demonstrable difference in communities up and down the country.”

More information can be found at the KBT website.