Littering in Lambeth


Sponsor: London Borough of Lambeth
Sponsor Liaison: Ashley Brandon, Gaynor Brown, Andrew Skilton
Student Team: Paul Bonarrigo, Matthew Iaconis, Ryan Johnson, Brendan McCann

Lambeth, a central London borough, has transportation hubs and attractions that draw a lot of foot traffic, and thus a lot of litter. Currently Lambeth Council issues Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) to people caught littering, but these FPNs have not reduced littering to the Council’s satisfaction. The team used research into the psychology of behavior-change, analysis of proven campaigns, and observations in the Borough to design pilot advertisement campaign posters focused on reducing cigarette litter. These posters were affixed to litter bins at transportation hubs in the Borough, and results showed that our campaign was successful. The team then developed five recommendations offering other avenues for the Council to address littering.


Lambeth Final Presentation

Lambeth Littering IQP 2020 Final Report

Executive Summary

The accumulation of litter in cities is not only aesthetically unappealing, but it represents a serious threat to societies and their inhabitants. Annually, over 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are littered worldwide; these butts contain toxic chemicals which represent a serious threat to our environments (“The Facts About Litter,” 2017). Ultimately, responsibility falls on local governments to delegate and fund cleanup efforts, which cost the United Kingdom upwards of £663 million in 2018.

Street litter accumulates in areas with high foot traffic and where people loiter. In Lambeth, this is around major transportation hubs, such as Waterloo, Vauxhall, and Brixton stations, and tourist attractions like the London Eye, Royal Festival Hall, and the London Aquarium (A. Brandon, A. Skilton, & G. Brown, phone interview, November 13, 2019; “Video Tour of Lambeth in London,” 2015). Currently, Lambeth Council issues Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) as their primary tool to reduce littering. These FPNs require that offenders pay £150, which can be reduced to £100 if paid within the first ten days, to bypass a court trial. The officers responsible for issuing FPNs are contracted by the Council and work for a company called APCOA (APCOA Parking, 2016).

Project Goal and Methodology

The goal of this project was to develop and test an implementable anti-littering strategy to assist Lambeth Council in addressing the problem of excessive littering in their borough. To accomplish this goal, the team spent the first seven weeks of our project at WPI developing objectives with corresponding tasks. These objectives were completed sequentially and built off of each other to reach our goal. A model of our objectives, with each specific task shown in a white box, is presented in the figure below:

As shown in the figure, the first two objectives primarily featured data collection and were conducted simultaneously. Information gathered from these objectives allowed us to design and test a littering reduction campaign. Based on the success of our campaign and our research into effective anti-littering strategies, we were able to develop a litter reduction plan and ultimately accomplish our goal.

Design and Implementation of the Anti-Littering Campaign

In Lambeth, cigarette butt littering is widespread, what most FPNs are cited for, and easy to observe and quantify compared to other forms of litter. Therefore, we narrowed the scope of our campaign to focus on cigarette-related litter at three major transportation hubs: Brixton Station, Waterloo Station, and Vauxhall Station. We then conducted a baseline (pre-campaign) study where we counted the number of cigarettes that were properly disposed of, improperly disposed of, and littered. These observations were conducted at each location during the morning commute and then again at lunchtime; once completed, this study contained 299 cigarette disposals with a litter rate of 45%.After conducting our baseline study, we designed advertisement campaign posters: one of which is displayed above. These posters built off of the results of our survey, where respondents demonstrated a sense of community attachment, using phrases like “our landmarks” and images of widely recognized Lambeth landmarks. Through interviews, officers indicated that FPNs on their own were not changing behavior; however, officers thought that making people aware of the magnitude of littering fines could have an impact. To incorporate this in our poster, we placed the size of the fine in white text on a black box which contrasts with the background and catches people’s eyes. Finally, during our officer observations we watched as cigarettes were repeatedly stubbed out and left on top of litter bins. To address this, we added small triangular stickers which were affixed to the tops of bins, near the stubber plate, with the message “Ash it and Trash it” to instruct smokers to properly dispose of their cigarette ends. We then repeated the procedure of our baseline study to determine if there was a significant change in the percentage of cigarettes that were littered.

Results of The Campaign

After our post-campaign studies were completed, we calculated the percentage of cigarettes that would become litter (littered plus improper disposals) dropped to 27.5%, which was a 39% reduction from the 45% in our baseline study. This result was statistically significant (p < 0.5), with a p-value of .008.

In locations where our bin topper was present (Waterloo and Vauxhall), we recorded a 37% decrease in improper disposals from 18.7% to 11.8% (p = .08). This result is not sufficiently statistically significant; however, we noticed through the course of our study that many individuals noticed our stickers and appeared to read them and proceeded to cautiously stub out their cigarette and throw butts away like it was perhaps their first time. Due to this, we believe that placing educational messages on top of bins could reduce the amount of cigarette litter.

Recommendations for Lambeth Council

Based on our findings we came up with five recommendations for Lambeth Council to, over time, reduce the amount of street litter in their borough:

  1. Future anti-littering advertisement campaigns,
  2. Ashtray and litter bin design improvements,
  3. Locations of litter bins,
  4. Volunteer litter cleanup events, and
  5. Student education about littering.

Future Anti-Littering Advertisement Campaigns

This recommendation is based largely on the success of our own campaign and provides suggestions for Lambeth Council in their own advertisement campaign. When designing their posters, the Council should build off their resident’s community attachment and display the monetary penalty of FPNs. We recommend they begin educating smokers on improper disposals by issuing FPNs. Finally, their campaign should be implemented in high traffic areas like transportation hubs and around tourist attractions.

Ashtray and Litter Bin Design Improvements

During our time in Lambeth, we observed many flaws in current litter bin designs. We recommend that future litter bin designs include large, easy to use ashtrays, clearly visible stubber plates, and two compartments that allow for easy disposal of waste and recycling. Since this could be costly and a long-term change, in the meantime, we suggest that the Council clean the ash and grime off litter bins to nudge patrons to properly use bins.

Locations of Litter Bins

We were also tasked with identifying if the current placement of litter bins was effective. We noticed most bins were placed curbside, with lots of bins distributed around major transportation areas and bus stops. We observed one particularly poor placement outside of Vauxhall station, where bins were irregularly clustered together. We recommend that Lambeth Council redistribute these bins to cover a wider area. Another behavior that we observed was that smokers often smoked near station entrances where there were no accessible litter bins. We recommend that the Council consider placing ashtrays by the entrances to give smokers a convenient way to properly dispose of their cigarettes.

Volunteer Littering Cleanup Event

One effective campaign that consistently came up in our research was a community cleanup day. We found that 54% of residents showed interest in a cleanup event. By organizing a community cleanup, the Council would spread awareness about the litter problem and help to create a clean environment where people will be less likely to litter. To help accomplish this, we recommend the Council work with local businesses to help fund an annual event.

Student Education About Littering

Our final recommendation was to educate the younger population about the negative impacts of littering. This could be done in an individual classroom or schoolwide setting. After students learn about the negative effects, we recommend they apply their knowledge by either creating anti-littering posters or painting litter bins with classmates that could be used by the Council.