Abstract

Objectives: 1. Examine why young adults litter through 2 focus groups. 2. Develop messaging and strategies to persuade them to stop. 3. Integrate tactics for targeting littering behavior in young adults into AFF’s Regional Litter Prevention Campaign through strategy and message development. 4. Pilot targeted outreach to young adults, those most susceptible to littering, in order to foster social learning through peer support within targeted communities. 5. Evaluate effectiveness of new Litter Campaign strategies for young adults. 6. Share lessons learned with broader environmental community.

Behavior

Behaviors: Picking up litter and disposing of trash properly

Behavior Pattern: Continous

Why was this behavior selected?

Trash and litter on land and in waterways is a pervasive problem that causes serious and detrimental economic, health, and environmental impact that traditionally has been overlooked by environmentalists, regulators, and the general public. Over 51 billion pieces of litter appear on U.S. roadways each year. Litter clean-up costs the United States more than $11.5 billion each year, with businesses paying $9.1 billion. Local and state governments, schools, and other organizations pick up the remaining costs.

The presence of litter also incurs indirect costs to communities such as reducing the value of real estate, deterring customers from entering a business, or new employers from locating to a community. It has also been correlated to higher crime rates; the presence of graffiti and litter more than doubles the number of people littering and stealing in that area. Public health threats also can arise in a littered community from increased vermin populations and other potential disease vectors, as well as lacerations caused by sharp pieces of litter such as broken glass on streets and sidewalks.

Trash in the Potomac Watershed which is not properly disposed of makes its way from communities, into waterways, and ultimately finds its way into the Chesapeake Bay. Litter, stormwater discharges, and landfills are all cited as major sources of marine debris. Nonpoint source littering and the dumping of waste leads to accumulation of marine debris and becomes detrimental the health of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Trash pollution is comprised largely of bio-accumulating plastics and also includes cigarette filters, baby diapers, six-pack rings, beverage bottles and cans, disposable syringes, plastic bags, bottle caps, fishing line and gear, automobiles and numerous other objects. Trash pollution can harm wildlife by being ingested or becoming entangled around the necks or appendages. This same garbage leeches toxic chemicals, such as endocrine disrupting compounds, into the Chesapeake Bay’s waterways.

Target Audiences

Audiences: Litterers

Primary Audience: Litterers

Secondary Audience: N/A

Demographics: Asia/pacificislander, Black or african american, Hispanic or latino, Native american or indian, Other, White

Ages: 12-17, 18-24, 25-34

Description of Target Audience

AFF seeks to target young adults, ages 14-30, in Forest Heights and surrounding communities by better targeting the Regional Litter Prevention Campaign. The effectiveness of the overall Litter Campaign on the community was evaluated in Prince George’s County in the Town of Forest Heights and surrounding neighborhoods. Although the results showed a 45% drop in littering behavior overall, this rate was greatly influenced by significant behavior changes in the 35 to 40 age group. This meant that after the Litter Campaign was disseminated within the community, most of the remaining litterers are now in the 14 to 30-year old age range. Compared with the results observed in older age groups, the data suggests the Litter Campaign is not as effective at changing littering behavior in young adults. AFF seeks to better target the Campaign strategies to young adults, ages 14-30 by revising the Litter Campaign strategy and messaging and piloting the strategy in the Town of Forest Heights and surrounding communities.

The Alice Ferguson Foundation’s (AFF) Regional Litter Prevention Campaign is a grassroots level initiative that works to address the issue of trash in the Potomac River Watershed, and improve the economic, health, public safety challenges faced by area communities as a result of litter. In addition to these identified challenges, AFF has found that most residents are not involved in community issues or politics. To overcome this disengagement, AFF has piloted community-based grassroots strategies that work with established community organizations. Community stakeholders, including local businesses, property managers, faith-based organizations, schools, civic associations, and concerned citizens, were engaged through community forums, cleanups, art contests, an adopt-a-litter can program, and other action projects. Community partners were invited to participate in community-based meetings, events, and cleanups, as well as to use and share the Regional Litter Prevention Campaign materials. As the target audience for this project is Millennials, outreach efforts focused on schools, camps, tabling events, and other businesses and community organizations that serve or engage the target demographic.

The table below includes demographic information from key target areas from this grant.

Prince George's County: Pop: 881,138. 14.8% White, 65.3% African American, 15.7% Hispanic or Latino, 4.4% Asian, 1.2% Other.

Forest Heights: Pop: 2,447. 11.85% White, 75.36% African American, 11.28% Hispanic or Latino, 3.92% Asian, 0.455 Other.

Oxon Hill-Glassmanor: Pop: 35,017. 6.28% White, 82.36% African American, 9.2% HIspanic or Latino, 3.28% Asian, 0.37% Other.

Research

How did you research your audiences: Focus groups

Barriers

In 2008 AFF conducted a study in partnership with OpinionWorks to understand regional attitudes and opinions about trash, the reasons why people litter, and possible ways to persuade them to stop. This extensive research showed there are deep-rooted barriers to changing littering behavior. For most litterers, littering is merely an impulsive behavior and defenses for this run high, including: repression – “I don’t think I litter;” denial – “It’s not litter, it’s just a gum wrapper;” rationalization – “There isn’t a convenient trash can;” and externalization – “People are paid to clean up litter!” Additional focus groups would allow AFF and OpinionWorks to identify the barriers and benefits to changing littering behavior in young adults. Once better targeted, Litter Campaign strategy will have a greater impact on this segment of the population.

Benefits

There are many benefits to having young adults change their littering behavior. Not only does it keep their neighborhoods and waterways clean and clear of trash, but it improves the pedestrian experience and results in a healthier community with resources once dedicated to litter pickup now able to be redirected towards other community needs. By persuading young adults not to litter and providing activities and volunteer opportunities, the Litter Campaign also has the potential to promote leadership, community pride, and foster environmental stewardship in this important segment of the population.

Gaining insight into your target audience

Poster and Image Testing

We tested several interventions that are being used in the current campaign to assess their impact with this target audience. Four posters and two brochures or flyers were tested. (Note that although the digital images of B, C, and D depicted below are not formatted as posters, the actual posters in full-size hard copy were tested in the focus groups.)

Poster A:

This poster depicts two children playing in a sand box with a large amount of trash in the foreground. Participants perceived both children to be Caucasian and approximately six or seven years old. Participants indicated a lack of connection or identification with these children because they were not African-American. They also said the children should be somewhat younger to convey a greater sense of vulnerability. Furthermore, they felt that children who are this old would know not to play with or near trash.

Participants also noted that while the concept of the photo had impact, they would not litter in a park or playground to begin with. Though they are accustomed to seeing some litter on neighborhood playgrounds, this disconnect seems to stem in part from the exaggerated amount of litter shown in the image. Their observation underlines the need for plausibility and authenticity in all the images used in the campaign. In general participants said images had more impact than words, but here the suggestion was made that an accompanying factoid could help overcome their plausibility concerns, such as, “every year X pounds of litter ends up on children’s playgrounds.”

Poster B:

Participants had a strong reaction to the “Northern Virginia” feel of this photograph. The boys’ soccer uniforms were viewed as too expensive for Prince George’s County and even looked “professional.” The grass looked too pristine and green.

As has been discussed elsewhere, this image also suffers from an exaggerated feel due to the amount of litter pictured. Furthermore, for an audience that is not bothered by the mere sight of litter, this image fails to make the connection for them to what may be harmful about littering.

Participants suggested more realistic-looking uniforms, a less pristine field, and less trash in the foreground.

Poster C:

As with the other posters, participants were immediately struck by the large amount of trash as unrealistic. In reality, they said, it would be scattered around rather than piled up in concentration. It was also suggested that in the woods one is more likely to encounter empty beer bottles than food containers.

Participants questioned the presence of two young girls in the woods by themselves, and offered that an adult could be in the image, perhaps directing the girls away from the trash on the trail or helping them clean it up. Participants also indicated that they were more likely to litter in the woods than on a playground, and that the woods being littered is one reason why people don’t walk through them.

Poster D:

This poster was viewed as the most realistic of the four for a Prince George’s County audience. Young children of color and an apartment building in the background were cited as realistic details, but the large amount of trash in the foreground did not seem realistic, and participants said they would not allow children to play in the midst of so much trash. While other details were seen as very realistic, the large amount of trash was not, and introduced the distracting idea of child neglect.

Tri-fold Brochure (E):

The tri-fold brochure was described as being too wordy and cumbersome. As one participant rather strongly stated, “I have absolutely, positively no reason to look at this. Like if this came in the mail, I’d throw it in the trash. Give me one page.” This comment is very typical of younger audiences today.

One suggestion was to make the brochure just a front and back, perhaps with a “before” image on one side and an “after” image on the other and include an invitation to an event such as the one listed on the brochure.

Participants agreed that images would be more effective than text. Again, images were expected to be tightly connected to what one might reasonably see in Prince George’s County. In the “OK” image, participants did not like that there were white hands holding on to the garbage bins on a pristine lawn (assumed to be Northern Virginia), especially as in contrast to a pair of black crows on a pile of trash in a dingy street in the “Not OK” image. One participant asked “If these bins were on this street would it look this way?” implying that there is a lack of access to proper receptacles in less-privileged communities.

The other image in the brochure that sparked conversation was the group of children pictured on the back of the brochure. The image was seen as too dark, and the children were not smiling. In this digital age, there is a very high standard for the quality of images used in even home-made publications today.

e” Flyer (F):

The main objection to this flyer was that the amount of trash was unrealistic, a comment that was much-discussed throughout the focus groups. This piece did not receive deep analysis by the audience, suggesting that it may be largely ineffective in a real world setting.

In addition to those actual campaign tools, four varied mock-ups of prospective images were tested for their impact.

Image G:

Despite participants’ insistence that all images reflect their own county or even local neighborhood, the image of the Washington Monument and Tidal Basin was striking to all of them. There was a clear amount of pride in the monuments as a place to be respected and kept clean, and as an iconic image for the region.

Though the audience has a general expectation that an area like the Tidal Basin is generally kept clean, one can see how the point of this image could be driven home through an accompanying factoid.

Image H:

Participants reacted strongly to this image. First, they thought no one would cross a large mud puddle to put a baby in a swing over that puddle. Second, there is too much trash to be believable, and third, the grown man on the playground equipment was nonsensical to them. This image suffers from the perception of exaggeration. Also, it raised concerns about “neglect” for some respondents, which is of course off-message and a distraction from the actual purpose of the campaign.

Image I:

Of this group of four images, “I” was seen as the most realistic. The simple idea of children playing in a fountain was evocative. But again, the suggestion was made to reduce the amount of trash in the image. Along with Image G, this image was seen as the most impactful for discouraging littering.

Image J:

This image, like H, seemed nonsensical to the participants – namely because they felt a woman would not be kneeling or sitting on a street corner with her small child while talking on the phone. Participants expected that there would likely be cars driving on the street. And despite being a genuine image from Prince George’s County, this photo did not feel authentic to their local

Strategy

Outreach Tactics: Extrinsic rewards, Intrinsic rewards, Prompts, Social diffusion, Social norms

What media/communication channels did you use? Small group or public meetings, Social media, Online or other digital media

Products and services

Tangible goods will be used to serve as prompts and as rewards for positive behavior. These goods and services will foster responsible waste management, including recycling, waste reduction, and not littering. As there is no competitive behavior to contend with littering, no disincentives will be used. Potential goods and services that will be used to reach young adults include, but are not limited to posters, stickers, reusable bags, flyers and fact sheets, banners, web content including social media, cleanups, presentations, and interactive activities, such as Litter Pachinko, Trash Timeline, and Trash Toss.

Cost or Trade Off

There is no monetary cost associated with littering behavior change in young adults. All AFF support to the community, including messaging materials and cleanup supplies, will be given free of charge.

Place

The products will be given out and posted at events and key community locations in and around the Town the Forest Heights, such as recreation centers and local businesses, to serve as prompts throughout the community and potentially as rewards for attending activities, such as cleanups. The messaging will also be used online through social media and community websites.

Primary Messages

The Regional Litter Prevention Campaign currently works to convince litterers that properly disposing of their trash is more beneficial than littering. Litter prevention helps keep their neighborhoods healthy and safe. A positioning statement that more specifically targets young adults will be developed after the focus groups have been conducted.

Lessons

How did you measure impact? Survey, Other

Most significant lessons learned

AFF staff evaluated the effectiveness of the new Litter Campaign strategies for young adults through two means: observations and feedback from young adults. Observations In order to fully evaluate the effectiveness and impact of the Litter Campaign, AFF conducted behavioral observation of pedestrians at four locations in Prince George’s County. The four observation locations where in Temple Hills, Capitol Heights, Suitland, and Glassmanor. By conducting behavioral observations instead of questionnaires, a community’s behavior change is observed as opposed to potentially biased by individuals’ reflection upon their littering habits. Four pre-survey observations were done prior to posting Litter Campaign materials within a block of the sites and two observations were done after the materials were posted. Each observation session lasted two hours and surveyed a 50x10m length of sidewalk.

From November 2014 to September 2015, AFF staff observed 1,947 pedestrians. AFF recorded all littered items from the observation sessions, but removed tobacco products and pieces of food from our final evaluation report. These items were removed because additional barriers that exist for properly disposing of the items. In evaluations, AFF defines tobacco products as cigarettes, cigars, loose tobacco, and matches. Items counted in the following evaluation include take-out containers, beverage containers (cans, bottles, and boxes), paper, and wrappers (chip bags, cellophane from cigarette cartons, candy wrappers, et al.).

After the deployment of the Campaign’s banners, yard signs, and other visuals, targeted areas experienced a nearly 51% decrease in littering incidents observed (Of all people observed: .41%

pre-survey; .20% post-survey). It is worth noting that 63% of observed littered items were tobacco products. However, due to AFF protocol, these littered items were not included in the final count.

Examining the age of the observed litterers shows that millennials are still the leading contributors to litter. The median age of litters pre-survey is seen to be 47 years old, while the median age of litters post-survey is seen to be 27 years old. However, we observed a 19% increase in the number of individuals using trashcans, the majority of whom were millennials (of all people observed: .77% pre-survey; .92% post-survey). The median age of trashcan users pre-survey was seen to be 35 years old and 27 years old post-survey.

Out of the four observation sites, Branch Avenue In Bloom in Temple Heights, MD saw the largest reduction of litters and largest increase of trashcan users. 0.4% of people observed pre-survey littered, while no littering was observed post survey. Furthermore, we observed an 80% increase of those who used the trashcan (2 people where observed pre-survey and 10 people were observed post-survey). AFF staff believes this observation site was most successful because of the strong relationship that staff has with area businesses. Sam’s Car Wash and Branch Avenue In Bloom both that posts Litter Campaign materials. These businesses notified AFF when materials were taken down or needed replacement, and are two of the Campaign’s closest partners and biggest supporters. This community buy-in has proven to be a vital element for a successful campaign.

Young Adult Feedback Education team members from AFF’s Trash Initiative and Hard Bargain Farm (HBF) joined forces this summer while working with the Green Zone Environmental Program (GZEP). GZEP is an initiative funded and administered by the District's Department of Employment Services and the District’s Department of Energy and the Environment. GZEP is one of the largest green jobs training programs for youth, ages 14 to 24, in the nation. This summer, AFF hosted 111 GZEP young adults (median age 19) and 19 chaperones at Hard Bargain Farm to further their mission to work on projects that have immeasurable sustainability impacts.

During their visits to HBF, young adults learned and created solutions to combat litter in their communities. Each group began its visit by conducting a cleanup at the banks of the Potomac River. Here, participants experienced the impacts of litter pollution in the watershed. Educators from AFF discussed who is responsible for the litter in the watershed and facilitated discussions that explored solutions to this issue. During these discussions, AFF gathered valuable feedback about the Litter Prevention Campaign. Participants were shown AFF’s litter prevention posters, including the four original and two newly designed posters. They were then asked to vote on which poster they believed would have the strongest impact in their community to prevent litter and change littering behavior and which would have the least impact to change behavior.

46% of GZEP young adults voted that the two playground images, Posters D and E, (24% Poster D, 22% Poster E)(Please see Appendix E for poster images) would be the most impactful to change behavior and prevent litter in their communities. Reasons given reflected similar findings from the OpinionWorks focus groups. The participants stated that the vulnerability of the young children in the images upset them and caught their eye. 28% of GZEP youth voted the soccer image (Poster A) to be the least impactful to change behavior and prevent litter in their communities. Reasons they gave also reflected the findings from the OpinionWorks focus groups. The GZEP young adults did not feel connected to this poster because it did not represent their communities.

GZEP participants were also challenged to create their own litter prevention campaign. Catchy slogans they created included: “Stop Pollution. That’s the Revolution”, “Litter Gives Me Jitters!”, and, “Littering is a reflection of who you are… think about it!” This activity empowered and motivated the young adults to take action by using their artistic and creative skills. Everyone went home with tools to help keep their communities clean, including a “Trash Kit” that contained a tote bag, gloves, water bottles or tumblers, and recycling bags.

The participants were also asked to fill out an exit survey after they participated in the daylong event. This survey was a combination of opinion and knowledge based questions. From this survey, we found 84% of respondents believed that: Being aware of personal waste is a good first step in understanding how to be environmentally proactive. Additionally, the following responses were stated when asked:

What do you consider your role in maintaining your watershed’s health?

- Holding trash until I reach a trash can.

- To do more in a cleanup.

- Stop littering and recycle more.

- Keep clean the environment and rivers etc...

- I have to clean up more and inform others.

- I have to recycle more and make more conscious decisions that involve the environment.

- Being fully responsible for my trash in order to help the community as a whole.

- I can reduce the amount of trash and litter in my community.

- My role is to inform other on the dangers happening in the watershed.

- Stop throwing trash on the ground.

Outreach Material

Additional feedback we received throughout the granting period regarding the outreach and marketing materials of the Litter Campaign. AFF staff found yard signs to be more popular than banners in communities. Yard signs are more versatile as they do not require a fence or wall to be posted like banners. Additionally, yard signs are on average $30 per unit, while banners are upwards of $100 per unit. Because of this, AFF was able to afford more Campaign items and have increased visibility. Staff also discovered that reusable water bottles and drawstring bags were more popular with millennials than posters and stickers. In addition to being more fashionable, water bottles and bags promote have the added benefit of waste reduciton and are less trashy than stickers and posters.

What worked?

In addition to the many outreach successes that AFF staff achieved during this grant, AFF has also found positive impacts from the implementation of the Litter Prevention Campaign. Increasing the observed sample size and collecting multiple years of data through rigorous monitoring will strengthen conclusions. The project not only produced statistical evidence supporting the effectiveness of the Litter Campaign, but AFF staff was able to develop valuable partnerships within target communities. These partners continue to utilize AFF Campaign materials and expertise around trash related issues, have become more involved within their communities, and actively support the Litter Campaign, which has brought about increased opportunities for community engagement.

One individual success story from this project is of a young adult that AFF staff met during a community cleanup, David. David is a high school student in Suitland, Maryland who joined the cleanup with his grandmother. After the cleanup, David was very motivated to share his story and further support the Trash Initiative’s mission. He wrote a blog on AFF’s website about his experience (please see Appendix E) and also gave testimony at the Prince George’s County Polystyrene Ban hearing. David is just one example of the powerful impact young adults can have once they are engaged in the important issue of trash.

What were the most significant limiting factors to greater success?

In addition to the many outreach successes that AFF staff achieved during this grant, AFF has also found positive impacts from the implementation of the Litter Prevention Campaign. Increasing the observed sample size and collecting multiple years of data through rigorous monitoring will strengthen conclusions. The project not only produced statistical evidence supporting the effectiveness of the Litter Campaign, but AFF staff was able to develop valuable partnerships within target communities. These partners continue to utilize AFF Campaign materials and expertise around trash related issues, have become more involved within their communities, and actively support the Litter Campaign, which has brought about increased opportunities for community engagement.

One individual success story from this project is of a young adult that AFF staff met during a community cleanup, David. David is a high school student in Suitland, Maryland who joined the cleanup with his grandmother. After the cleanup, David was very motivated to share his story and further support the Trash Initiative’s mission. He wrote a blog on AFF’s website about his experience (please see Appendix E) and also gave testimony at the Prince George’s County Polystyrene Ban hearing. David is just one example of the powerful impact young adults can have once they are engaged in the important issue of trash.

Advice Or Suggestions

AFF would advise that organizations conducting or considering similar projects work very closely with a diverse range of community partners, keeping in mind the extensive staff support required for developing such partnerships. Developing close community partnerships allows outreach staff to discover the wants and needs specific to partner within target communities. For example, AFF staff learned there was a need for a cigarette receptacle outside a tobacco shop in one of the project’s target communities. Staff worked with the shop owner to purchase a receptacle container for outside the shop and placed Campaign marketing materials (stickers) on the receptacle. Campaign branding allowed the receptacle to function as both a marketing product and a litter reduction tool or service. Unfortunately, the receptacle has since been reported missing because someone was not able to regularly watch it, which, as was previously mentioned, was a consistent challenge of this project. AFF suggests that those looking to implement this type of project in the future should purchase cigarette receptacles that are not easily removable.

The final recommendation from this project centers on the necessity of community feedback when developing marketing materials. Involving the target audience in the development of Campaign materials proved to be a very effective component of this project. The importance of gathering community feedback and buy-in throughout every step of the development and implementation process is likely the strongest lesson learned from this project. AFF staff was able to adapt the marketing materials and giveaways of the Campaign into the projects and messages that would have the greatest impact and be the most useful for millennials. For example, staff found that the target age group did not want stickers or posters and that these items would likely end up creating more waste. Instead, the youth and young adults engaged in the project recommended reusable bags and water bottles as giveaways. Both of these items have been extremely popular among the millennial audience and help promote the message of waste reduction.