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Using communications to promote behaviour change

How do you persuade people to change their behaviour?

There’s no single answer – especially when it comes to littering. Research tells us that littering is a complex, context-specific behaviour that requires a smart, context-sensitive approach. This explains why general prevention campaigns enjoy less success than communications that focus on a specific element of littering .

So how do you create the type of nuanced campaign that’s required?

Understand the problem

Are you aiming to address a specific type of litter – cigarette butts, for example? Or would your objective be better served by tackling litter in a particular scenario – like raising awareness of flytipping in local alleyways?

Know your stuff

The first rule of effective communications is to know who you’re talking to. But when it comes to litter, that’s only half the story.

There’s no single profile for who’s most likely to litter. Every instance is context-dependent: the kind of rubbish involved, where it takes place, if there’s a bin nearby, who else is present – the list goes on.

To give your campaign the best chance of success, you need to take all these personal, social, material and habitual factors into account.

The ZWS Toolkit is a comprehensive communications resource that’s been developed using insights like these, to help you plan effective communications campaigns. It contains ready-to-use ideas for nine different littering contexts so you can tailor your communications to local needs.

Think big

When it’s time to plan your media, think beyond the usual suspects: posters, flyers, and billboards. Consider all channels on offer. Will digital play a part? Which approach will make the most impact? What’s the most effective way to split your budget?

Learn from the best

Changing a deep-rooted behaviour might seem like a difficult challenge. But it’s far from impossible. All these campaigns rallied against litter and made a difference – they’re packed with great ideas and inspiration to help you do the same.

Bin it your way - Chewing Gum Action Group

As the costliest type of litter to remove, it’s no surprise that chewing gum has been the target of many behaviour change campaigns. The Chewing Gum Action Group (CGAG) are the brains behind one of the most successful.

CGAG runs everything from gum bin giveaways to educational roadshows to persuade people to bin their gum. To keep things fresh, each year the campaign has a different theme. In 2015, their ‘Bin It Your Way’ campaign – rolled out across nine partner regions – reduced gum litter by an impressive 48% over the course of the monitoring period.

Inspiration to take away:

  • Replicate – download CGAG’s materials from previous campaigns to use in your area.
  • Get involved – apply to be part of the group’s next campaign and benefit from CGAG’s support.
  • Engage, then educate – don’t be afraid to be bold. Use a big idea to get people’s attention, then follow it up with a strong call to action.

Trash Talk

Litter complaints in Manchester halved during the roll-out of a bold city-wide campaign that discouraged people from littering.

Slogans born from pop culture lay at the core of this campaign. Aimed at younger audiences, the clever, text-only communications raised the litter prevention point without labouring it. Forget posters; these public service announcements appeared on paving slabs – a twist that attracted attention in its own right.

Inspiration to take away:

  • Be bold – as the creators of this campaign put it, “For people to engage with it the message has to be hard-hitting.”
  • Talk in your audience’s language – the less a campaign feels like it’s come from ‘the establishment’, the more likely it is to resonate with your audience.
  • Communicate as part of a wider crack-down – this campaign ran alongside other litter prevention activities, including adding more bins around the city and enforcing fines more effectively.

Littering says a lot about you, Toronto

The city of Toronto recognised that behaviour change often starts with a shift in social norms. They adjusted the language they used to talk about litter in the hope that the city’s residents would start thinking about it in another way.

The result was a provocative campaign that used packaging from well-known food and drinks brands to label litterers as ‘lazy’ and ‘selfish’. The approach attracted positive media attention from around the world.

Inspiration to take away:

  • Grab their attention – the campaign used strong images to catch people’s eye.
  • Design with impact – the relatively simple idea comprised three key elements: the familiarity of the branded packaging, the context that makes it litter, and a negative portrayal of litterers.

Things to do differently:

The idea’s undoubtedly a good one, but the execution had some flaws.

  • Get brands on board – this campaign had to be pulled early because it ruffled feathers among the brands it featured.
  • Check with your legal team – before using any brand symbols or imagery to make sure you’re on solid ground.

Love Essex

Litter in Essex fell by 41% during the three-month period of this Essex-wide campaign run by Cleaner Essex. Communications reminded people that littering could land them a £75 fine.

Inspiration to take away:

  • Join forces – this campaign brought together 14 local authorities to achieve a bigger impact than going it alone.
  • Get business on board – more than 300 businesses helped make sure the campaign was seen in all the right places, including Tesco and McDonald’s.
  • Go multi-channel – this campaign was hard to miss, thanks to its roll-out across posters, bus stops, bus backs, fast food packaging, and social media.

Things to do differently:

  • Get press for the right reasons – this campaign attracted criticism for labelling men ‘smart’ and women ‘pretty’. The lesson? Bin the stereotypes.

Bin it for Good, Birmingham

Litter fell by more than half when Birmingham City Council turned high street bins into charity collection points. The more waste locals put in, the more money the scheme’s sponsors donated to charity.

Inspiration to take away:

  • Turn a negative into a positive – the charitable donation aspect transformed this litter intervention into an act of altruism.
  • Create PR opportunities – sponsors were attracted by the opportunity to get a public tick in their corporate social responsibility box.
  • Keep it simple – this campaign combined simple tactics to achieve maximum effect: bin-branding, well-targeted press releases, and a slew of shareable social media content.

Resources you can use right now

These tools will help get your campaign out of the starting blocks.

ZWS Toolkit

Tackle everything from abandoned beach rubbish to town centre night-time litter, using context-specific communications from the ZWS Toolkit. You can download all the re-brandable artwork for free.

Download the toolkit.

Infographics from Zero Waste Scotland

Chewing Gum Action Group

What better way to tackle chewing gum than with a campaign that's proven to work?

Download the materials from CGAG's past campaigns.

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