Packaging and Recycling: Litter Breeds Litter

Recycled Paperboard

INCPEN has been fighting litter for months, and they’ve found a common problem: litter breeds litter. It’s not just about providing access to recycling.


Some weeks ago, we wrote about the war on litter, but we didn’t cover the real reasons why people litter in the first place. We did hover over them, though:

  • Personal choice, where people acted by instinct, without even considering the side effects.
  • A magnetic effect of existing litter, where people scattered more where there was more litter in sight.
  • A lack of responsibility, often paired with a feeling of someone else taking care of it in the long run.

Incpen, (one of the organisations featured in the article), recently produced a little video about one of those issues: the pull effect of litter.

It’s ironic how, nowadays, we’re more concerned than ever before about littering the streets. We consider it “antisocial” and “unacceptable”, reports the organisation, but littering levels are at its highest point in a whole decade.

Street cleaning is swallowing up to a billion pounds a year just in Great Britain. Jane Bickerstaffe, director at Incpen, said:

[quote style=”boxed”]Bottles, cans and wrappers don’t litter themselves, but it’s a bad advertisement for a brand to be seen littered on the ground. That’s why Incpen has supported anti-litter campaigns, commissioned research and encouraged the use of anti-litter messages.[/quote]

Many organisations, as we reported, are asking for a coordinated long-term programme backed by governments. But why is coordination so important? The answer is at a next step: recycling.

We’ve come to consider recycling as a matter of access: give the people some tools to do so, and recycling will just happen. Install some bins and containers, and it’s done. But nothing could be further from the truth, since “reach rates” aren’t doing it anymore:

[quote style=”boxed”]Reach rates tend to be high while recycling rates tend to be significantly lower. Why the disconnect? If the vast majority of consumers have access to recycling, are they simply not using it?[/quote]

The truth is, recycling is much more dependent on convenience. Put containers out of sight, and they won’t exist.

[quote style=”boxed”]Convenience matters, and if we think it’s a seemingly miniscule amount of time necessary for a consumer to make the responsible choice, then we must believe that their recycling really is readily accessible. Unfortunately, many consumers with access to recycling lack convenient access to recycling.[/quote]

Litter suffers from a similar wound: most of the time, it’s hard to find bins at first glance. People start scattering, litter begets more litter, and it becomes unstoppable. Social. Cultural. When given the opportunity, and reminded to do so, people always take the sustainable choice.

We like feeling good, after all. We like thinking of ourselves as responsible persons ─ and that’s the best reason anybody could find to throw his trash in the garbage can.


Sponsored by Derprosa, leading brand in biaxially oriented polypropylene films for packaging.