'Beacons of litter' act as magnet for more rubbish, says Keep Britain Tidy report

Written by: Editorial staff | Published:

The presence of large, brightly-coloured items of litter – crisp packets, bottles, chicken boxes and sandwich boxes – acts as a ‘beacon’, giving others permission to drop their rubbish, according to Keep Britain Tidy's Centre for Social Innovation.

This research is also said to show that keeping areas free from these ‘beacons of litter’ reduces overall littering. The finding is said to be built on previous academic research which found that the presence of any type of litter attracts further littering because it signals to people "that littering is socially acceptable in that area", stated the survey.

The research has been published in the inaugural edition of environmental charity’s Journal of Litter and Environmental Quality, a new publication showcasing the latest research and case studies on the issue.

The ‘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, then planting ‘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.

The sites were then monitored to see how people behaved and how much litter accumulated and the results were said to be "clear". The experiment was repeated six times over two weeks, with a total of 72 hours of observations monitoring taking place.

In the places where the ‘beacons of litter’ were present, the proportion of people who littered their rubbish, rather than disposing of it correctly, was 35%. 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%.

The research also showed that people were more likely to drop ‘beacon’ items if other ‘beacons’ litter was already present.

When ‘beacons’ litter was present or planted, 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.

Keep Britain Tidy chief executive Allison Ogden-Newton said: “This research has important implications for those tasked with keep our country clean. If we can remove these ‘beacons of litter’ from the environment, there is evidence here to show that it could help reduce overall levels of littering and reduce costs."

The Journal of Litter and Environmental Quality is available to download here

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