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Old habits, like cigarette butts, die hard

Old habits, like cigarette butts, die hard

9 Jun 2017 Tags: urban management ciggie bins

The CCID’s autumn #KeepItClean campaign was successful in getting smokers who previously dropped their stompies to dispose of them in a bin instead. But will this behaviour change be permanent?

People are creatures of habit. We fall back on what works, even if it doesn’t. For example, why do we procrastinate on projects, even if last-minute work stresses us out? And why do we continue to drink alcohol or eat sugar, despite the health warnings? Sometimes the mere mention of the word “change” makes us feel uneasy. It may be as good as a holiday, but it’s certainly a lot more difficult to go through with!

When it comes to the environment or issues that affect others, personal change seems even more difficult to attain. This is the predicament we, at the CCID, find ourselves in every time we roll out public awareness campaigns. We’re aware that we’re appealing to our community members to make changes for the greater good that may make them uncomfortable.

One example is our annual Social Development winter drive, in which we ask people to spare a thought for street people and “Give Responsibly”. Compassion tends to overcome fear of change here, and every year people dig deep in their pockets and their cupboards to help the NGOs that help street people.

A tougher sell is our annual Urban Management #KeepItClean campaign. During autumn, we appeal to Central City users to think twice about dropping litter, dumping refuse on the pavement or spraying tags. A lot of people see these as victimless transgressions. After all, the City and the CCID pay people to clean up after them. This may be true, but we argue that deploying our urban management teams to clean up after members of the public is not necessarily an efficient way to use ratepayers’ money – or the best way to utilise our teams. The CCID spends R26 000 a day just to get rid of street refuse (litter and dumping) in the CBD. That’s R26 000 over and above the cost of emptying refuse bins. Imagine where that money could go instead?

During May 2017, in order to get the public to think differently about litter, we rolled out an unusual experiment to inspire behaviour change and reduce the overall cost of cleaning the CBD. The experiment took the form of possible new ciggie bin, tested in St Georges Mall and Adderley Street. Inspired by UK-based charity Hubbub’s “ballot bin” design rolled out in cities including Manchester (www.hubbub.org.uk/ballot-bin), this bin turned an outdoor smoke into the same experience the office water cooler offers – a chance to debate the issues of the day.

The display area contained a question, changed on a regular basis, and asked smokers to vote with their butts. The idea was to encourage them to discard their stompies in a designated bin rather than on the sidewalk or in the gutter. And, judging by the crowds it drew and the number of butts it held at the end of each day, the activation was a huge success. Questions included “Belieber or Non-Belieber (on the night of the Justin Bieber concert – the public were split on this one) and “Are office romances okay?” (clearly people thought they were).

Many of those who used the bin admitted to dropping stompies on the ground before. And just about all of them said how much cleaner the environment where they were standing was after the bin arrived. The experiment cost the CCID the price of the experimental bin but taught us a priceless lesson: telling someone not to litter won’t necessarily get the desired effect. But giving them something else to do with their litter almost certainly will.

The CCID has 300 regular ciggie bins (valued at R1 000 each) throughout the CBD and we are now looking at ways to make these more visible – and possibly more interactive! – to smokers.

Do you think the CCID's #KeepItClean campaign will change behaviour in terms of littering? Let us know.

Find out more about the 2017 #KeepItClean campaign.

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