What motivates you to pick up litter?

Earlier this year, we held focus groups in five neighborhoods of Baltimore. We wanted to learn about how people feel about their neighborhoods, about the litter there, and about what we could to get them more involved in cleaning it up.

With the help of OpinionWorks, a Maryland research firm with extensive environmental and public health experience, we gathered residents from Baltimore Highlands, Brooklyn/Curtis Bay, McElderry Park, Mondawmin, and Waverly to talk trash in focus groups. We also recruited Port employees for a focus group at the terminal. We specifically recruited participants who were not active with civic associations, and who said they may litter sometimes and are unlikely to pick up litter. A moderator used a discussion guide to encourage conversation among the residents that was friendly and free-flowing, but that could be compared across the groups.

Of the 34 people who participated in the groups, we heard many talk about their struggles in daily life. Many spoke of their personal paths of recovery, whether from substance abuse, incarceration, unemployment, or health issues. They also spoke about how neighborhoods with less litter exhibited a sense of self-respect, and they wanted that well-being for their own communities. They agreed that picking up litter is a simple activity that can give a sense of accomplishment and well-being for their neighborhood, and for themselves personally.

We also asked them why they don’t pick up litter, and what would motivate them to start. They talked about germs and filth, and even exposure to needles and harmful items. But they also said it felt futile to do alone; there was so much, and they are only one person. Setting a realistic limit and demonstrating that they are part of a community would help them adopt the behavior.

We also heard in these groups, and in past research, that people don’t litter in places where they feel personally connected–their mother’s house, church, and so on. Can we give people a sense of accomplishment, reconnect neighbors, and clean up litter all at the same time?

This process was the beginning of developing a social marketing campaign. Social marketing is a scientific process to change behavior, using marketing principles to “sell” the desired behavior to a specific audience. After reviewing the results of this research, we are designing a campaign to work with these “disengaged” individuals to pick up litter around their homes, or other places they feel personally connected to. We are calling it Trash Free Baltimore, and we are so excited to roll it out in 2017!

To read the whole report, click here.

Thanks to the Baltimore Community Foundation, Blue Water Baltimore, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Chesapeake Bay Trust, Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, Maryland Port Administration, NOAA Marine Debris Program, and corporate assistance for funding support for this project. We welcome your support as well; click here to contribute.

One Comment on “What motivates you to pick up litter?

  1. Pingback: Getting clean, inside and out | Trash Free Maryland

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