Cigarette butts are the most littered item in the world and gum-stains are very expensive to remove.
All the research shows that individuals are unwilling to go far to dispose of such small litter and many of the receptacles provided for such cigarette ends or gum are not optimised for that purpose. Furthermore the many attempts to persuade smokers or chewers to use personal disposal solutions have so far failed to result in the widespread adoption of such practices.
So the purpose of this trial was to see whether a completely different approach, that of providing lightweight and low cost receptacles at high densities and appropriately spaced intervals could bring about a change in the behaviour associated with gum and butts.
The site chosen for this experiment was an entrance to one of the busiest railway stations in the UK where, though there were existing traditional disposal facilities and a regime of occasional enforcement, there was still a very high incidence of littered cigarette ends and gum.
A total of 15 Zilch micro-bins were deployed around the entrance to the station in March 2016 and since then the quantity of cigarette butts and gum has been monitored and the behaviour of smokers observed. The micro-bins are still in use today, continuing to do what they do best, capturing butts and gum.
Within 5 minutes of the first micro-bin being fitted it was being used and since being installed their usage has steadily increased as more and more visitors to the station have become aware of their existence. What is observed is that smokers are comfortable with the distances between the bins and are each able to make use of one as they finish their cigarettes. Gum chewers, judging from the quantity of gum-balls found evidently also find the containers easy to use.
Whilst there has been a need to replace a small number of the micro-bins over time as they have occasionally been damaged or abused this, because of the simplicity of the fixing mechanism, is easily and quickly done.
Since their installation there has been a reduction of approximately 80% in the number of cigarette butts on the ground within 3m of the micro-bins. The bins are emptied twice-daily by the station staff and this merely involves lifting the liner out of the bin and emptying it. A recent enforcement exercise yielded far fewer tickets than previously indicating that behaviour change had been achieved.
So the key finding is that a simple solution, made in part from re-purposed litter-picked aluminium cans, when deployed at the right density can bring about a behaviour change without either being widely promoted or any element of coercion.
Micro-bins can be used as a way in which street scene and waste management agencies can see for themselves how such a simple and inexpensive solution can bring about behaviour change without enforcement or promotion.
They can also be used as part of the strategy when introducing environmental enforcement and thus providing smokers and chewers with no excuse for irresponsible disposal.
Furthermore they can be deployed to find out whether the such a low-cost solution is something that will suffice in a target area.
Finally, they can be treated as a cheap way of determining the best placement of more expensive solutions.
An additional benefit of the use of micro-bins is that cigarette filter tips collected in this way can be passed to specialist recyclers.