A nudge is better than a wink

We held a training day on Saturday for our 8 wonderful Community Champion volunteers who will work with us on our Beautiful Boroughs project in East London. Our Community Champions will be going out to meet residents in the less affluent areas and helping them to form groups to keep their neighbourhood clean.

During the training day, we asked our Champions what would make people litter less. Among other suggestions, there were plenty of ideas focused on making it easy and attractive for people to put their litter into a bin. So we all thought that litter bins in fun shapes and with amusing sound effects were definitely things that would ensure that more litter ends up in the bin rather than on the ground.

That discussion brought to mind a brilliantly simple idea that has surfaced in Copenhagen. Some of the students at Roskilde University have been working with The Municipality of Copenhagen to implement what they are calling “The Green Footprints Experiment”. This involves painting green footprints on the ground leading to most of the litter bins in the city. This “nudge” concept is intended to make it easy for people to bin their litter and, as the students say, finding litter bins in a hurry isn’t always the easiest of tasks. These footprints reduced littering by 46% during a controlled experiment in which wrapped sweets were handed out.

So by simply making the bins stand out by drawing attention to them really helps people to achieve what they want (getting rid of their rubbish and keeping the streets clean). The citizens of Copenhagen actually do care about the state of their city’s streets – they just need a little nudge to meet those concerns effectively in their busy everyday lives.

I cannot help thinking that there are many other little, inexpensive “nudge” things that we can think up that will reduce the amount of litter that people drop. So, please get thinking, everyone !

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