Tackling gum litter in known hotspots, Islington Council

In January 2017 and from September 2019, Islington Council have partnered with social enterprise Behaviour Change to pilot innovative new signage, funded by Mars Wrigley, to help tackle the issue of littered gum in known hotspots such as shopping centres, train stations and transport hubs. The signs are simple and scalable and have been proven to be twice as effective as clean-up alone.

Efficiency and income generation

The challenge

Cleaning up littered gum has always been a particularly difficult issue with traditional methods often being expensive and short-lived. In Islington, chewing gum litter was a constant source of complaints from both local residents and commuters, which led to Chris Demetriou, Operations Manager enthusiastically joining the pilot. At Islington Council, we know that spotless streets make for happier and healthier communities and so we needed to find a way of dealing with the cause of gum litter, as opposed to only tackling the consequences.

The solution

Following extensive ethnographic research, Behaviour Change found that one reason people give for not using bins for their gum is that they didn’t see them. And so, in a pilot in January 2017 and then in a full rollout in September 2019, Islington Council installed several signs which point out the bins in a fun and engaging way. This intervention makes sure the bins are unmissable. It’s about being in the right place at the right time, pre-empting that somebody might want to dispose of their gum at that moment and making the bin the obvious place to do it.

The impact

The signs we installed halved gum littering (47% reduction) over a period of a month. We were also able to save around £2,000 during the month on clean-up costs.

How is the new approach being sustained?

Many of the interventions introduced during the pilot have continued, with eye catching posters being placed on the council’s newly introduced dual purpose litter bins, particularly outside busy locations. This has helped to alleviate the gum littering problems. The council has pledged to carry on the fight against chewing gum litter with additional annual social media campaigns, as well as maintaining its partnerships with Keep Britain Tidy and organisations such as Behavior Change.

Lessons learned

Chewing gum is the most challenging type of litter which Islington Council as well as other local authorities and organisations have to tackle on an almost daily basis. More must be done to change people’s knowledge and attitudes towards chewing gum litter. Islington council will be continuing their public information campaigns moving forwards.

Contact

Chris Demetriou, chris.demetriou@islington.gov.uk

Links to relevant documents

The signage website includes further information on the research and the different designs is available here.