Reducing cigarette butt litter

How do we keep our streets clean and inspire people to do the right thing with their cigarette waste? That’s the question we tried answering three years ago. We found the answer by applying ‘nudge theory’.

Efficiency and income generation

Using this proven behaviour change technique, we developed the world’s first voting ashtray, the Ballot Bin. The Ballot Bin is an innovative ashtray proven to reduce cigarette litter by 46 per cent (measured by Southend Council in 2017 and Keep Britain Tidy in 2015). Thirty UK councils use it to tackle cigarette litter.

Cigarette butt litter is a poisonous problem. Cigarette butts make up one-third of all litter in the UK and can be found on 99 per cent of town centre streets. Each cigarette butt contains lead, arsenic and thousands of other chemicals. They do not biodegrade and young children and wildlife are particularly at risk from ingesting them.

The solution

 The Ballot Bin encourages the use of the ashtray by allowing the user to vote. When disposing their cigarette butt they can choose one of two receptacles. Each receptacle has a window to display the used butts, allowing a public opinion poll to be generated.

The question on the first bin was ‘Who’s the best football player? Ronaldo or Messi’. The ashtray went viral, orders came in from all over the world, and the bin proved to successfully reduce cigarette butt litter.

The impact

Southend BID installed 21 Ballot Bins in the Summer of 2017. The council in Southend carried out a 12-week evaluation of all sites and reported a 46 per cent reduction in cigarette litter.

Simultaneously in America, environmental charity Keep America Beautiful tested 16 Ballot Bins in three sites. They measured the impact of the Ballot Bins on cigarette litter over six months and found a reduction of cigarette litter on busy streets by 74 per cent.

How is the new approach being sustained?

The bins are customisable by question – allowing users to vote on topics that reflect their culture and interests. Once the bin is installed, it stays up. Besides emptying the ashtray, we recommend changing the question regularly, keeping smokers engaged with questions reflecting their interest, and questioning topical issues relevant to the local area. 

Lessons learned

Questions related to sporting events are especially popular. Having a high density of Ballot Bins makes smokers in the area more familiar with them and more likely to do the right thing.


Karina Toolan
020 3701 7544

Miranda Valenzuela
Waste Management & Contracts Officer
Southend-on-Sea Borough Council
01702 215707