Pioneering project using drones and data to tackle litter in Bournemouth shows “game-changing” results

The most scientifically robust litter survey ever undertaken in the UK reveals groundbreaking results set to impact how litter is tackled in the future.  

Funded by McDonald’s, scientists from Ellipsis Earth used drone technology and AI to create detailed litter maps, identify hot spots and build an understanding of how litter is travelling across Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole in March and May this year.  

The intelligence gathered from the drone data was then used to inform the placement of positive litter-busting interventions which made the area’s bins more engaging and noticeable such as glow in the dark bins and voting bins where people can vote with their rubbish.  

These were placed in key hotspots and thanks to funding from McDonald’s and its suppliers, the final of the three cutting-edge surveys took place in August to measure the impact of the interventions and revealed that:  

  • The east side of Bournemouth Pier (where multiple interventions were placed) saw a reduction in litter of 79%. The west side (where no interventions were placed) had zero reduction
  • Glow in the dark bins reduced the number of glass bottles and aluminium cans littered by 88%
  • Large brightly coloured bins helped reduce litter in Bournemouth Lower Gardens by 89% when they were brought in to supplement existing small closed bins which had previously been the worst performing bins in the region
  • Ballot bins attached to lampposts (where people answer a question by depositing their cigarette end) placed in targeted locations showed an average reduction of 73% of cigarette butt litter 
  • All other existing council bins across Bournemouth and Poole showed no decrease in litter  
  • In Christchurch and in all the other beaches in the area where no interventions were put in place, there was also no decrease. 

Interestingly the data showed that where negative and accusatory messaging was used, which is an approach taken by many local authorities, there was a 10% increase in litter in areas near this signage, adding evidence to the argument that negative messaging doesn’t prompt positive behaviour. Hubbub is urging councils to consider this evidence and to transform the way they communicate.    

Trewin Restorick CEO and co-founder of Hubbub said: “We’re blown away by the results of this project. This is game changing for the way brands, the food and hospitality industry and local authorities across the country tackle litter. The results are conclusive – the key to reducing litter is to get the localised data and use positive and playful messaging. Traditional methods don’t work. Negative messaging doesn’t work. In fact, the results suggest this can even increase littering. We are looking to partner with progressive councils in the future to help them transform how they communicate and really look forward to seeing what can be achieved in other areas of the UK.”  

Helen McFarlane, Senior Sustainability Consultant for McDonald’s, said: “McDonald’s is committed to supporting innovative solutions that help prevent litter. We’re proud to have been part of this ground-breaking trial, and we’re delighted to see that it has had such a positive impact in Bournemouth. It’s fantastic to see how we can use big data to make small changes that make it easier for us all to do the right thing for the planet.”    

Local McDonalds franchise Operations Manager Wesley Roshier said “We have seen some great success in reducing litter in the Bournemouth and Boscombe areas since partnering with Hubbub to tackle this issue together. We used the detailed data highlighting litter hotspots near our stores to help us to target our resources better. This now means that we are effectively picking up more litter in the same amount of time than we were a few months ago when we did not have this data to hand.” 

Ellie Mackay CEO and founder of Ellipsis Earth said: ”We are delighted to be able to provide this robust data on such a large scale to evaluate the success of Hubbub’s innovative and creative interventions, and to demonstrate the power of data-driven campaigns. Our aim is to help all stakeholders – brands, campaigners and councils alike – to maximise the impacts of their efforts so that every penny and every hour spent on improving waste management is spent intelligently. The results of this campaign clearly demonstrate the importance of fully informed decision-making and we hope to inspire other councils to step up to the challenge and join the data-driven litter revolution.” 

McDonald’s suppliers Britvic, Seda and Huhtamaki have also funded the project.    

Organisations interested in finding out more about the project can email: hello@hubbub.org.uk    

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