Drone technology helps slash trash in Bournemouth litter

Glow-in-the-dark bins, voting bins and positive messaging prove successful in ground-breaking trial

The most scientifically robust litter survey ever undertaken in the UK, today reveals groundbreaking results in how to reduce litter in urban, green and coastal areas across the UK.

Lead by scientists at Ellipsis Earth, the trial which has taken part in three phases throughout the year, used drone technology and AI to identify litter hotspots across Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole to build an understanding of how litter was travelling across the area.

Thanks to funding from McDonald’s, and its suppliers, the intelligence gathered from the cutting-edge technology, enabled environmental charity Hubbub to identify areas in need of specific litter-busting interventions.

By creating bins that had positive, engaging messaging and placing them strategically throughout the area, findings from the final survey have shown a 75% decrease in litter in hotspots identified earlier in the year.

The interventions that proved most successful with residents and visitors in Bournemouth were the glow-in-the-dark bins, which saw an 88% reduction of glass bottle and aluminum cans littered in the vicinity, and ballot bins, where an average reduction of 73% of cigarette butts was recorded, when placed in targeted locations.

Bournemouth McDonald’s, which carries out daily litter patrols, used the data to find littering hotspots making their clean ups more effective.

Other findings from the trial, revealed:

  • 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
  • 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 we tackle litter in our urban, green and coastal areas across the country. The results are conclusive – the key to reducing litter is to get robust localised data and use positive and playful messaging. The success of the glow in the dark bins shows that people are quite willing to put their litter in bins, they just need to be able to see them! We are looking to partner with progressive councils in the future to help them understand and tackle their litter problem and really look forward to seeing what can be achieved in other areas of the UK.”

Local McDonald’s restaurants have used the data to highlight litter hotspots near their stores to inform their daily litter patrols and are now picking up much more litter in the same amount of time than they were previously.”

Helen McFarlane, Senior Sustainability Consultant for McDonald’s, said:

“Our restaurant teams have been litter picking in our communities for nearly 40 years. We want to take that next step to try and prevent littering in the first place, which is why we funded this innovative project. We’re really proud of the impact that it’s had across Bournemouth, by tapping into big data we’ve made small changes that make it easier for us all to do the right thing.”

“We want to thank everyone, especially McDonald’s customers, who used one of our bins this summer. With your help we’ve been able to help make Bournemouth a cleaner, tidier place to live and visit.”

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 are also funding the project.  

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