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“Vote With Your Butt” Is A Brilliant Idea To Stop Litter

How do you get young men (the worst litterers) to toss their cigarettes in a bin? Easy, make it a sports trivia game.

“Vote With Your Butt” Is A Brilliant Idea To Stop Litter
[All Photos: via Hubbub]

If it’s hard to convince smokers to stop littering cigarette butts just to keep a city cleaner–or protect the environment–maybe cities can get their attention with something people tend to be a little more passionate about: sports.

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A new cigarette bin in London, divided into two clear sections, lets smokers use their butts to vote on a series of questions about sports, like who’s the greatest soccer player in the world.

The design was first tested earlier this year as part of a clever anti-littering campaign focused on a particularly trash-filled street in the middle of the city. Villiers Street, though it’s only a few blocks long, runs between two train stations and is one of the busiest streets in the city.

“It’s really transient, so you get people who are just coming through to commute, and they spend maybe like two minutes on the street, but they’re on it twice a day,” says Heather Poore, one of the founders of Hubbub, the social enterprise that designed the bin. “I think like anywhere, the less investment you have in the area, the less you’re bothered about keeping it clean. That’s one of the problems.”

The government spends nearly £1 million a year on cleanup for that street alone and sends cleaners out to the area seven times a day. Poore argues that people have become complacent about the trash, which ranges from cigarette butts to fast food packaging. “It’s one of those things you don’t really notice, and as soon as you’ve noticed it once, you notice it everywhere,” she says.

The designers studied the people who used the area–commuters, residents, businesses on the street, and people who came to visit the local pubs–and noticed that butts were the most common type of litter and younger men tended to litter the most butts.

“We thought, ok, how can we engage these guys?” she says. “Young men like competition, they like sport, and we thought how can we combine that. So we created a voting bin. Each week it was a different question linked to either football or cricket.”

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Immediately, people responded. “You literally saw people looking at the bin, reading the question, and then quite purposefully putting their butt in whichever one they thought was right, rather than on the [ground],” she says. “It’s using competition and fun to get people to do the right thing.”

Over six months, they tested the ashtray along with several other anti-littering interventions, like a trash can that makes sound effects when people use it, or flash mobs that celebrated whenever someone threw something away. “The idea was to test different things, find out what worked, and then what does work we are going to replicate,” says Poore.

The “vote with your butt” cigarette bin was so popular that they’ve started producing it for others. In early December, they’ll present their findings at the House of Commons. “We’re trying to create change at a policy level, as well as doing stuff on the ground,” she says.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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