Can Courtesy Campaigns Curb the 'Trashing' of Transit?

Posted on June 30, 2015 by Janna Starcic - Also by this author

Chicago Transit Authority
Chicago Transit Authority

It drives me nuts when people litter. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people throw trash out of their car windows while they’re driving. I’m always tempted to honk my horn when I see drivers slyly ditching cigarette butts through their open window. Listen up, people. We see you!

I try to do my part by picking up after myself as well as others. I’ve chased down a crumpled bag or receipt that has flown out of my hand, or I take my empty popcorn bag and candy wrappers with me when I leave a movie theater. This may all stem from a presentation someone gave at my grade school about pandas nearing extinction as they handed out bumper stickers emblazoned with the EPA’s “Protect Our Environment” slogan.

“Shaming” as compliance tactic
For people that didn’t have the “Don’t Litter” message drilled into them when they were growing up, there are new public service campaigns that will hopefully make an impact.
In May, the Chicago Transit Authority launched its new courtesy campaign encouraging bus and rail riders to be considerate of other passengers. The campaign features a series of posters with messages related to the most commonly heard complaints from riders about the behaviors of fellow public transit passengers, i.e. leaving bags on seats, talking loudly on cell phones and littering. The messaging for the latter offense (pictured above) was particularly effective as it showed the interior of a railcar with a passenger literally wading waste deep in trash with the tagline: “Your maid doesn’t work here. Please don’t leave your crap behind.” Awesome!

A recent audit of MTA New York City Transit’s (NYCT) subway found cleanliness of the system “woefully inadequate.” I sympathize with the MTA as it must be a tremendous challenge to keep a system of its size litter free. According to the report, NYCT paid $240 million to 2,485 employees to clean and maintain subway stations (from July 2013 to June 2014). It’s too bad public transit agencies have to spend any money at all cleaning up after people, when it could be put to better use, such as helping improve service or keeping fare costs down. It will be interesting to see whether the MTA’s own courtesy campaign, which launched earlier this year, will make a difference.

Using science to catch “perps”
On the extreme end of public shaming to curb littering, a new ad campaign in Hong Kong uses the “DNA lifted from discarded wrappers and other trash to create digital mugshots of the perpetrators, which are then plastered all across the city,” according to Wired magazine. The citywide campaign, entitled “The Face of Litter,” was developed by Ogilvy & Mather Hong Kong (O&MHK) for the Hong Kong CleanUp Initiative, a nonprofit working to bring attention to the necessity of reducing waste.

With a staggering 16,000 tons of waste dumped in Hong Kong every day, the campaign aims to raise awareness of the extent of littering across the city, pinpoint those responsible and encourage people to change their behavior.

To that end, O&MHK targeted key locations in Hong Kong to collect, analyze and create DNA-based visual representative of the person who littered. This was achieved by combining DNA data with other factors, such as demographics based on the type of litter and where it was collected to determine the approximate age of the litterer.

“Litter is such a major problem in Hong Kong and thanks to newly available DNA technology we can now put a face to this anonymous crime and get people to think twice about littering,” said Reed Collins, chief creative officer for O&MHK.

Although it may seem a tad creepy and Orwellian to some, maybe Hong Kong’s litter shaming campaign is something to consider.

(This was originally published in the June 2015 edition of METRO Magazine.)

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