For six months we've been running a social experiment in one of London’s busiest streets, exploring whether playful interventions can stop littering. The experiment was independently measured by Keep Britain Tidy who's research suggests the answer is 'yes' with littering dropping by 26%. Encouraging, especially considering the highly transient and challenging nature of the selected street. What did we learn? 

1) Simple, targeted interventions work

Our voting butt bin got people to vote with their cigarette butts on sporting questions such as: ‘Is Messi or Ronaldo the best footballer in the world?’. The approach targeted cigarettes which were the most littered item and young men who tended to litter the most. It was highly effective both on the street and social media. A feature on Lads Bible secured 86,000 Facebook likes.

Chalking chewing gum dropped on the street brilliantly highlighted how much gum is dropped and was linked to the fact it costs £1.50 to clean each piece. This immediately succeeded in cutting the amount of gum dropped.

2) Social media is powerful

Our Message Bin a Bottle flashmob was one of the videos we created around the campaign. This helped secure extensive national media coverage raising the issue up the political agenda. It was also copied by a charity in Cornwall effectively spreading the approach to another part of the country.

3) Being brash works

We tried to be too clever at the start of the campaign. Gradually we realised that putting in colourful interventions, switching them around frequently and being total explicit in our messaging worked. Colourful bins, simple messages on cost and making the issue more visible may not seem to be rocket science but is effective.

4) Collaboration is crucial

Cutting litter requires everybody to be involved; the local authority, waste contractors, shops, pubs, businesses and people all have a role to play. We raised £100,000 from the private sector for our experiment. This funding can from a variety of sources all of whom had a direct interest in addressing the problem. Sharing the burden is the best way to find the resources needed to fund the interventions we tested.

5) Listen and learn

Right from the start we sought to engage the local community – from the creation of the ‘My Street is Your Street’ photo gallery through to regular meetings with local businesses we consulted and listened. These on-going discussions informed the creation of campaigns and helped us quickly adapt and change the strategy. Without this involvement we would never have created ‘The Naked Bin Men’.

Our original ambition was to use Neat Street as a catalyst creating more effective litter campaigns across the UK. We have secured funding to run two more Neat Street campaigns next year which will build on what has been learned to-date. We will be testing new approaches aimed at a rural setting – focussing on roadside litter. In January we will create a ‘How to Guide’ which will freely share all that we learned in London and hope this will give others ideas for implementing new campaigns.