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9 cornerstones of a litter bin strategy

People take bins for granted.

They expect them to be nearby, easy to spot, clean and accessible – precisely when they need them. But the logistics of managing a large bin estate, and making it work as effectively as possible, is far from simple.

This guide is about the fundamentals of a litter bin strategy.

Use it to help you fine tune your strategy, spark new ideas and achieve better results.

Where should a bin be?

The position of a litter bin is crucial, especially when it comes to tackling litter hotspots.

You’ll already know where those hotspots are in your area – outside fast-food outlets or pubs, near schools or bus stops, car parks or vacant land. Anywhere that people congregate, there’s a chance that litter will follow.

There’s more information about litter hotspots in our Binfrastructure guide.

Equally, some places are less suitable for bins. That could be down to access, obstruction issues and lack of visibility – or because there’s a higher risk of vandalism. Like in alleyways, for example.

Keep different types of bin together

A key part of litter prevention is encouraging people to think about where their waste should go.

If you have separate bins for recycling and general waste, sit them together to make it easy for people to do the right thing. Walking even a short distance between bins puts some people off, and could mean they’re more likely to litter.

Separate containers for cigarette butts and used chewing gum will encourage people to dispose of this waste properly.

Monitor bin use

Keeping an eye on bin levels will help you prioritise collections. It’s also a good way to decide if bins should be moved to locations where they’ll be more effective, and to inform your decision making about where new bins may be needed.

Smart bins act as remote monitors, sending alerts over the mobile phone network when they’re nearing capacity. Though budgets for this sort of thing might be tight, smart bins are being more widely used all over the world, including in Scotland.

Handheld recording devices are a lower-cost alternative. Carried by cleansing workers, they can make your strategy more efficient. East Renfrewshire Council has made good use of this technology, using handheld devices to help create more effective operational schedules.

Empty before bins become part of the problem

Bins only work if they can be used. When they start to overflow, they can contribute to the litter problem.

Studies show that litter leads to more litter. If a bin is full, people are more likely to dump their rubbish next to it, or somewhere else.

Emptying bins regularly is key to making sure they remain usable and effective.

Your monitoring plan should help identify problem areas, and areas with lighter waste issues, so you can develop a more efficient collection schedule.

Make it easy to report overflowing and damaged bins

You might not be able to monitor every bin all of the time. But you can get help from the community, especially from people who want to keep the local environment clean.

So get people to tell you if an overflowing bin needs emptied sooner than expected, or if damage to a bin has made it unusable.

Make it simple – put a phone number or app name on the side of your bins. If people can quickly report something on their phone, they will.

Work with partners and your communities

The best bin strategies have the support of the wider community. That might mean consulting with community groups, businesses, schools, environmental agencies, charities, and others.

For example, some local authorities in England work with Keep Britain Tidy and other charities on the Bin it for Good initiative. This campaign encourages people to use litter bins to help raise money for local charities.

If you’re a local authority, you might also work with private land owners to encourage them to develop an effective bin strategy. If they don’t have a strategy, or any bins, waste from their property could become litter in yours.

Local businesses, especially those who run a take-away food business, may be prepared to contribute towards the cost of new bins near their property, which are then serviced by a local authority.

Communicate and educate

Sadly, making bins available isn’t enough to motivate habitual litterers to use them properly. A communications plan will help to make bins more effective.

This could involve new signage, stickers on bins and local advertising campaigns. Updating your old communications can make them stand out again.

The ZWS targeted messaging toolkit contains a range of context specific communications materials you can adapt to suit your local audience.

Education is also an important part of a long-term litter prevention strategy. Partnering with local schools to educate pupils on the importance of using bins to dispose of waste properly will contribute to the process of generational improvement.

Read our guide to working with schools.

Think beyond bins

Bins can play a big part in litter prevention, but they won’t solve every issue.

Excessive dog mess, broken glass, used drug needles, fly-tipping and more can be a blight for many towns and cities, and a danger to its residents. Some local authorities, such as Aberdeen, East Ayrshire, Edinburgh and Glasgow have formed their own ‘environmental taskforce’, ‘clean team’ or ‘hit squad’ to tackle this.

Find out about the work of Glasgow’s Environmental Task Force.

Always innovate

Bins will always be the first line of defence in keeping litter off our streets. The last few years have seen several developments in bins themselves – and the ways they’re used. A number of organisations are experimenting with ways to make bins work better by looking different, being positioned differently or carrying a unique message.

Ideas have included:

  • Nudge tactics — subtle changes that make using the bin look like the right thing to do
  • Funnel bins — bins designed for specific areas, such as laybys… the bin’s shape is designed for the way it will be used
  • Clean graffiti — environmentally-friendly street art that delivers a message or points people towards places they can dispose of their waste.

Develop your bin strategy

Our guide ‘Binfrastructure: Making your bins work harder’ looks at advances in bin technology and interesting techniques being used around the world. Read the guide.

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