WEDNESDAY 5 OCT 2016 11:52 AM


Richard McIlwain, deputy CEO of Keep Britain Tidy, discusses the Chewing Gum Action Group’s latest campaign, the Litter Lounge, and how the partnership tackles the issue of gum litter in communities today.

What partners are involved in the Chewing Gum Action Group?

The Chewing Gum Action Group is a partnership of government, local authorities, Keep Britain Tidy, and industry partners Wrigley and Perfetti Van Melle, the Chartered Institute of Waste Management, and the Food and Drink Federation. This year we have 11 local authorities who all want to engage in taking part in the Litter Lounge who we’ll over the course of the year to install the lounge and use some of their creative posters to bring about and raise awareness, and change behavior. What's interesting is that last year, when we brought up the Bin It Your Way campaign, we saw significant reductions in chewing gum littering as a result and levels of raised awareness when people were asked. It clearly has an impact, the key is obviously to draw that impact sustainably in the longer term.

What does Keep Britain Tidy do?

Keep Britain Tidy is an independent campaigning charity. We have three broad objectives: eradicating litter, preventing waste, and creating quality public space. We run a number of programs and campaigns to support those three objectives including eco-schools and the Great British Spring Clean next year.

The Chewing Gum Action Group developed the Litter Lounge installation in London to educate people on chewing gum litter. What do you hope to achieve with the Litter Lounge installation?

The idea of the Litter Lounge was to try to raise awareness of the issue of gum littering and to change people’s behaviour. Behaviour stems from people’s attitudes, and people’s attitudes are formed from the values they hold. People hold very different values when they're inside their own homes than they do outside when they're in public space. Nobody would spit gum on their own carpet, and yet they would drop gum, or a small portion of people would, when they're outside. The Litter Lounge challenges those ingrained attitudes and brings the living room outside. Public space is a shared space, and it should be valued just in the same way that people value their homes.

How big is the problem of chewing gum litter? Why is it so difficult to eradicate?

It's very rare to see fresh chewing gum on the street. What you see instead is the stain leftover from the chewing gum. It’s not as frequently noticed as, say, packaging, food and bottles, but unfortunately it's still there. It's such an issue because you can't speed it up; once it's stuck to the pavement it's difficult to remove and it often can't be removed. It costs an enormous amount of money to employ somebody to go and clean individual pieces of gum from the pavement. The average cost is around 20,000 pounds to clean a town full of gum. If you multiply that up for towns across the country, you are using millions of pounds that could be spent elsewhere.

What are the challenges in talking about this kind of subject?

The thing we've got to be careful of is that we're not telling people what they must do. If we're going to change behavior, we've actually got to engage, encourage, inspire and inform those people about the problem, and about the consequences. Nobody wants to live in a place surrounded by gum litter; most people want to live in clean, vibrant, happy places.

What campaigns have you done previously?

On Oxford Street, one of the busiest areas in London, we used fluorescent paint to circle chewing gum stains on the pavement. Circling fluorescent paint was a way of making people pause, look down, and realize the problem is right beneath their feet, and we did this very successfully.

Previous campaigns were caused by Bin It Your Way and series of created graphics and posters supported by social media to inspire behavior change. We believe working with young people is absolutely critical if we're going to achieve any of our objectives in the short term and certainly, looking forward to 2030, for a world that is hopefully better and more sustainable than the one we're in at the moment.