Litter is one of the scourges of modern society. In the United Kingdom alone, more 30 million tonnes of unofficial litter (i.e. not in bins and recognised disposal units) are collected from streets annually, costing UK local authorities some £885 million to clean up.
In a new study, published this week in in the Journal of Marketing Management, I have investigated (along with my co-authors Professor Dominic Medway and Professor Stuart Roper) how attitudes to places are affected by litter. For the first time, by adopting a quasi-experimental method with over 600 respondents, this study has provided evidence of a causal relationship between litter and place attitudes, at the level of the individual. The place chosen for the study was a park.
This, we hope, will be helpful information for local authorities making budgetary decisions. Councils have been cutting their investment into litter collection and street cleaning – but this study is the first of its kind to show that seeing litter does reduce attitudes. We go on to argue that as many of the other forms of place marketing (associated, for example, with inward investment) have not proved their worth, in ROI terms, then public money is better targeted at more basic interventions, like litter clearance, if a place wants to have a better image.
Finally, the study concludes that there is nothing contentious about clearing up litter. Unlike other physical incivilities, such as graffiti, everyone hates litter! Likewise, its removal is very straightforward and isn’t associated with any displacement effects. This is in contrast to interventions such as CCTV which are costly and complicated and which have been associated with relocating rather than reducing crime.
The Journal of Marketing Management is offering FREE ACCESS to this article. You can access it here.