Peer-pressure revealed as crucial factor in changing litter behaviour in under 25’s

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Selected beverage cans (Foto: Kroll / recyclingportal.eu)

Uxbridge, UK — Investigating the littering behaviour of young adults was the aim of a joint research partnership from Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) with the national anti-litter charity Keep Britain Tidy and its Centre for Social Innovation. The joint initiative sought to develop a better understanding of why people litter soft drinks packaging, in order to inform intervention and prevention strategies to more effectively combat the wider issue of litter. Having identified young adults between the ages of 16 and 25 as those most likely to litter soft drinks, researchers combined behavioural observations in the field with focus group interviews to engage with this group. The study has recently been released.

In examining why and how 16 to 25 year olds litter, the report entitled „Soft drinks littering: Understanding and influencing young adult litterers“ uncovered four key factors which are most likely to influence this demographic, with some surprising perceptions emerging about what constitutes litter in the minds of young people. Key findings included:

  • 1. Personal Influences: perceptions and values can dictate litter decisions

Attitudes: Under 25s were found to have differing definitions of littering itself. Certain situations, such as putting cigarettes down the drain or leaving an item on a wall or on a bench, rather than the ground, for example, were not seen as littering by many.

Solutions to explore: Educating and raising awareness via targeted, short-term litter campaigns can positively impact this group by encouraging and attributing greater value towards caring for the environment.

  • 2. Objects influences: the nature of packaging can alter behaviour

Attitudes: The design and type of object or packaging was found to play a crucial role in influencing littering behaviours. Respondents perceived bottles to be less acceptable to litter, compared to cans, as they are re-sealable and can be carried to consume and dispose of later. Glass bottles were seen as unacceptable to litter because of the danger the material could pose to other people.

Solutions to explore: There is potential to assess the way in which packaging solutions are developed across the sector in a way that facilitates greater reuse, and to encourage the purchase of reusable formats above other options amongst those most likely to litter.

  • 3. Social influences: the risk and reward of judgment by others

Attitudes: It was found 16-25 years old would almost never consider littering on a first date, in front of parents or a younger sibling for fear they would be frowned upon or ‘told off’. In other circumstances, despite knowing it was wrong, participants admitted they would regularly litter when around groups of friends.

Solutions to explore: Positive peer pressure to shift perceived social norms about littering being acceptable, or even “cool”, was found to be impactful in changing behaviour. Introducing ‘pledge making’ into these types of campaigns has already seen success in related areas such as recycling.

  • 4. Environmental influences: location matters – litter breeds litter

Attitudes: Littering close to home was deemed unacceptable, compared to in a town centre, where the environment was perceived to be dirtier and respondents felt more anonymous. Similarly, it was considered acceptable to litter at festivals, cinemas, on the tube and in other places believed to be cleaned regularly, or where there are no bins available.

Solutions to explore: Redesigning or improving bin placement to make recycling or rubbish disposal more convenient was found to likely have strong levels of effectiveness. For example, placing bins in areas of high footfall, or near fast food and drink outlets.

Bev Burnham, Senior Manager, Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability, Coca-Cola Enterprises GB, stated: “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.“ And Keep Britain Tidy’s chief executive Allison Ogden-Newton addedd: “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.“

Source: Coca-Cola Enterprises Ltd