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Neat Streets

Tackling litter with tech

To design a successful solution, it helps to first truly understand the problem. And to get a fresh perspective, it can sometimes help to zoom out and take an aerial view.

Litter is a problem we know exists all around us but is hard to understand fully from the ground. That’s why we partnered with tech company Ellipsis Earth back in the summer of 2021. They used cutting-edge drone and AI technology to accurately identify 47 kinds of litter and create the most scientifically robust litter map ever seen in the UK to show us exactly what was happening on the ground in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole.

The post Covid litter spike

As COVID lockdowns lifted across the country, litter was on the rise: parks, green spaces and beaches were all affected, and the stunning Dorset coastline was no exception. Over a million people visited Bournemouth beaches over a three-day period in the summer of 2020, stretching local services to breaking point with media reporting an estimated 40 tonnes of rubbish being left behind.

Blue Planet 2 might feel a while ago now, but the issue of ocean plastics is still very present and as with all rubbish left on beaches, there was a high chance of this trash being washed straight to the sea and causing ocean pollution far afield.

Napkins and sachets and butts, oh my!

The following year, with the country in lockdown again, we partnered with Ellipsis Earth, McDonald's and BCP Council to understand the issue and take action. Ellipsis measured litter in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, comparing levels during the March 2021 lockdown to a few months later in May-June 2021. In that time there was a 454% increase! We saw cigarette butts, paper tissues, plastic sachets and much more being left behind in abundance.

Only ABBA can help us now…

Based on these scientific insights, we introduced a mix of proven and experimental behaviour change interventions to strategic locations across BCP Council over the summer with the aim of shifting littering behaviours.

Our exciting bin-novations included glow-in-the-dark bins to remind night-time revellers on the beach where to bring their rubbish (‘lucky bin- use me to make a wish’), general waste voting bins and ballot bins featuring topical questions (is it coming home?), and the world’s first Disco Bin which lit up and played music when used (so yes, ABBA to the rescue)!

We also ran a spoof ‘Catch of the Day’ fishmongers stall at weekends to show litter’s impact on our oceans in a fun way. Local litter-picking group, the Dorset Devils provided us with a tasty spread of freshly caught local litter including Masked Rollmops (PPE fresh from the sea) and Atlantic Spadefish (children’s toys left behind by families).

Dance litter away

The difference made

Data driven interventions reduced litter by 75% on average!Ellipsis Earth conducted a final, independent litter mapping survey at the end of August to measure the impact of interventions. The results were striking:

  • Hubbub interventions positioned according to Ellipsis Earth’s data, reduced litter by 75% on average in surrounding areas.
  • Ballot Bins in data-driven cigarette litter hotspots reduced cigarette litter by 73%.
  • We ran an A/B test at the comparable East and West sides of Bournemouth Pier. The West side had no interventions and saw a 0% reduction in litter. The East side featured colourful bins and cheeky glow-in-the-dark messages for evening beachgoers and saw a huge 79% reduction in litter. The data enabled local McDonald’s stores to collect ‘more litter in less time’ on their daily litter picks according to their Operations Manager at the Boscombe Store.
Check out Ellipsis Earth's full scientific impact report
Read the report

Looking to tackle litter?

Our world-famous Ballot Bin voting ashtray has got bigger and better! We've created the Big Ballot Bin to cut down on-street litter.

Curious for more? 

We do more than just litter. Ever wondered what to do with your old clothes, or how to make your smartphone last longer?