“We must educate people and create awareness” is often heard in response to what should be done about littering in our streets and countryside. However, while education and awareness raising are necessary, they only go half-way. The other and more important half is telling people what they must actually do – what is the behaviour they should change. This requires action messaging.
Appeals such as “Drop litter in the bin not the gutter’ are clear and actionable. However negative messages such as “Do not litter’ tend to be ignored. This is backed up by research.
In a country like ours, framing a campaign message on an aesthetic appeal, such as to make the country ‘beautiful’ probably misses a majority of the population. They would be far more engaged if the messages were framed around real issues – such as that litter attracts vermin and spreads disease. These messages are meaningful and relevant.
There is also a popular misconception that it’s okay to litter because it gives people jobs. Communicating the fact that litter is harmful to the health of people, especially children, will make people think twice about dropping a fast-food packet with sauce and some half eaten chips – which will attract cockroaches and rats if left in the gutter.
Municipalities also spend millions of rand annually to collect and properly dispose of illegally dumped litter and refuse. This drains municipalities of scarce funds that could much better be used to deliver essential services.
A useful general platform on which to frame waste communications is that waste management systems are operating in towns and cities to keep them clean and healthy. And that, as a community member and responsible citizen, the right thing to do is to participate – and get litter and rubbish into the system.