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Councils, community groups and charities gathered in Belfast on Tuesday 7th to share the latest approaches to holding back the tide of litter sweeping the country. While the total cost of cleaning up after litterers in Northern Ireland topped £43 million in 2015-16, some of the projects discussed here which prevent littering in the first place were free or nearly so.

The Environmental Charity Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful organised the event, bringing in three of the UK’s most experienced practitioners in what is popularly known as “nudging” alongside local speakers whose projects have been making a difference in their community.

One project described saw flowers bloom in a Belfast alleyway and was highlighted as a great example of people caring for the place they live, which has been shown to drive down anti-social behaviour. Another reduced littering in a park by making using a bin the objective in a game of hopscotch, so people used the bin without thinking.

Ian Humphreys, Chief Executive of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful said “A nudge is a way of encouraging a person to act in a particular manner – in this case not dropping litter – in a simple way that does not limit their choice to act differently if they really want. We’re not telling people what to do; we’re helping them make a decision to act in a way they know they should.”

“Thankfully, most people don’t litter. A small number litter and don’t listen when you say stop; for those people we have fines and enforcement teams, who should be supported every step of the way. Everybody else that litters does it without really thinking about it and they are the people the nudge approach works for. We’re trying to make it easier for them to decide to act in the way they would if they stopped and thought about it, without actually having to stop.”

Alongside what might be described as traditional TV and radio advertising were strange ideas like glow in the dark posters to deter littering after dark, spraying dog fouling with vivid dyes so people start to notice it as a problem, and even the straightforward such as incentivising dog owners to carry an extra bag in case they meet someone who has forgotten. All simple ideas, but with a potential to make a big hole in a £43million problem.

Ian continued “it’s great to see ten of the eleven councils represented here, as well as community groups, charities and environmental groups. When you factor in the support the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs gave to facilitate the event you get a feel for the commitment that’s being made to tackle litterer’s expensive and damaging habit.”