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Micro-bins for gum and butts

A simple and inexpensive way to encourage behaviour change in smokers and chewers.

Small litter, notably cigarette ends and spent gum, is problematical for number of reasons: smokers and chewers may be unwilling to go far to dispose responsibly of their waste; cigarette ends are difficult to pick up; gum-stains are very expensive to remove; and lastly, existing street litter solutions are not optimised to capture this type of waste, are expensive and need specialist fitting.

Furthermore, attempts to change discard behaviour through the provision of personal disposal solutions have not solved the problem.  And, in any case, personal ashtrays are not available at the majority of tobacco points of sale and would represent an added expense to the smoker.  So only the most environmentally conscious of them use them or take the trouble always to find a bin.

An experiment was conducted by Zilch UK to see whether the provision of a collection of simple and inexpensive receptacles could bring about a change in smoker behaviour.

Permission was given by a major rail operator to deploy 15 Zilch micro-bins at a station entrance, an area highly littered with cigarette ends though large on-street bins were available on the adjacent pavement.

The trial began in March 2016 and the bins are still in place today.

Evaluation / evidence of success

Within 5 minutes of the micro-bins being deployed they were being used by smokers. Over the 18 months in which they have been in situ hundreds of butts are collected every day and a reduction in on-street litter of approximately 80% has been recorded.

Lessons learned

If receptacles are provided at frequent and convenient intervals, smokers and chewers will use them without any advertising or coercion.  Once a few use the receptacles, many others follow suit.

Consequently, for small litter, notably gum and cigarette ends, many small receptacles are far more effective than fewer larger bins.  The ease and convenience of simply being able to drop the waste items into the bins makes them popular and, when fitted vertically the stubbing plates avoid the "ick" factor as no waste accumulates on them.

At the outset the micro-bins do suffer occasional abuse but they are simple and cheap enough to be easily replaced.  After a while they become a part of the street scene and they are not interfered with.

Many reasons have been given, by those approached with a view to deploying micro-bins, for not installing them - from degrading the street-scene to emptying them not being part of the existing street-cleaning contract.   The preference appears to be to let small litter lie and accept that butt-strewn and gum-stained surfaces are part of the built environment. Cleaning up, a time-consuming and expensive business, appears to be the preferred option.


Work continues by Zilch UK to persuade Businesses, Councils and Street Cleansing Contractors to trial and adopt micro-bins.

Zilch UK would also welcome the opportunity to have a user-centric comparative usability and cost-benefit analysis carried out in which its solution is evaluated against others.

Second generation micro-bins are now available and these are sleeker and more streamlined than their predecessors.  Additionally, they can be wrapped in a design of customer's choosing.

The opinions expressed in this content have been provided by a third party and may not necessarily be the opinion of Zero Waste Scotland. 
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