Sustainable Cities™

Belfast: Changing citizen behaviour leads to cleaner city

Since 2004 Belfast City Council has been working hard to make the city cleaner. Litter was to be found everywhere in public areas. The city council therefore launched an anti-litter campaign aimed at improving public behaviour towards littering. The campaign used a combination of advertising and penalty fines. This case focuses on campaigns to change public behaviour towards littering.

Pas på affaldsvagterne, 18. juli 2008, Af thejeton, Flickr, Creative Commons

Belfast City Council, Northern Ireland, launched an anti-litter campaign in 2004 aimed at changing and improving public behaviour towards littering. The main objectives of the campaign were to encourage individual responsibility for the disposal of litter, to highlight the consequences of littering, to heighten awareness of fixed penalty notices and the level of enforcement in Belfast, and to develop a sense of ownership and pride in Belfast's urban environment.

Pre-campaign research highlighted that 60% of citizens admitted to littering for various reasons including: Carelessness, laziness, and a lack of any consequence for littering. The research also showed that the most commonly dropped items of litter are cigarette butts, paper and pieces of fruit.

Advertising was done via television, on advertisement shells and buses, and poster campaigns in schools, council owned facilities, businesses and public areas. A number of targeted initiatives for businesses, communities, youths and schools were also carried out.

 Litter in Belfast, 25 Dec 2007, By Alan Stanton, Flickr, Creative Commons

Children are one of the groups most likely to litter and therefore a targeted initiative was made to educate them about the effects of littering. The municipality runs different educational programs for primary and secondary schools and summer schemes throughout Belfast. Here children learn to clean their city through drama and craft workshops. Furthermore, a computer game about an environmental superhero "Captain Cleanup"was invented, who fights for a cleaner Belfast.

The targeted initiative for businesses worked mainly with their responsibility for creating a clean environment in front of their stores. Fast food businesses were asked to minimize their packaging and make their customers aware of their responsibility towards their environment. Simple things like providing a bin outside or asking customers if they really need their food wrapped all add up to making a difference to the amount of rubbish on the street.

Another focus was to avoid cigarette butts in streets. In 2004, more than 50,000 butts are swept off Belfast's streets every week. Many of them from outside businesses which have been affected by the smoke-free law introduced in Belfast in April 2007.They were asked to find new strategies to avoid cigarette butts in streets. The municipality is also providing smokers with pocketsize wallets to hold stubbed out cigarettes until the smoker is able to find a bin to dispose of them properly.

Belfast has a history of strong enforcement activity on littering and illegal dumping. Under the Litter (Northern Ireland) Order 1994, it is a criminal offence to drop litter or dump rubbish. Signs warning of the presence of Litter Wardens and the associated fixed penalty notices have been erected through out the city. The enforcement team has a highly visible presence. If you are caught littering in the street the municipality will issue a fixed penalty fine of £50.

'You wouldn't litter in your own home, so why litter your city?'

The initiatives to keep Belfast clean persists even after the municipality's primary campaigns are completed. An example is the initiative 'Big Spring Clean' organized by the Belfast Telegraph, Tidy Northern Ireland and DOE Rethink Waste with the purpose of making the public aware of their own waste. In the spring of 2012 'Big Spring Clean' was being held in April, gathering 25,000 people.

Read more:
>> Tipton: Think Before You Throw
>> Zürich: Züri-Sack - popular rubbish sack policy
>> Frankston: Compost makes cities greener
>> Copenhagen: Waste-to-Energy-Plants

Last updated Tuesday, January 21, 2014