In 2018 the New South Wales government in Australia partnered with 16 local councils to trial a range of interventions to reduce cigarette butt littering behaviour. These interventions increased cigarette butt-binning rates by 53%. So what were these interventions, and could they be applied in the UK? 


Cigarette butts make up one-third of all litter in the UK and can be found on 99 per cent of town centre streets. Each cigarette butt contains lead, arsenic and thousands of other chemicals. 

They do not biodegrade which means they stay in the environment and cause damage to plants and animals.

Recent studies by Keep Britain Tidy have shown that there is a need to change people’s perceptions that cigarette butts are harmless litter.


After finding similar results in their local litter studies Australia’s New South Wales Environment Protection Authority led a collaborative behaviour change trial in partnership with 16 local councils to understand what strategies are effective in reducing cigarette butt littering behaviour.


The interventions can be summarised by 3 ‘P’s –


  • Pathways: Creating the best environment for smokers to correctly dispose of their butts by placing signs on cigarette bins and stencils on the ground to create pathways to the location of butt bins.


  • Pride and Ownership: Encouraging smokers to develop a sense of pride in, and ownership of, the area as a comfortable and welcoming place for smokers, thereby creating a commitment to bin their butts.


  • Positive Social Norming: Encouraging smokers to believe it is expected that smokers using the area will dispose of their cigarette butts in the bins provided; calling on smokers to act responsibly, reinforcing positive feelings they get from disposing correctly and meeting a target of zero butt litter for the location.



Each strategy led to an increase in binning rates. The best results were consistently found with ‘pride and ownership’ strategies, though participants considered the pathways approach to be the easiest and most cost-effective intervention. 

Efforts to reduce littering of cigarette butts into our environment could look to the learnings from the NSW EPA behaviour change study and follow the roll-out of the full programme in 2020. 

You can find full details of their study, including a step-by-step approach to setting up a smoking zone and choosing cigarette bins here.



What does the NSW EPA say about cigarette bins?


During their behavioural trials, the NSW EPA found that the placement, visibility and design of a cigarette bin or outside ashtray had a direct influence on whether it was used or not.


“Cigarette bins are an integral part of a strategy in reducing cigarette butt litter. The placement, visibility and design of your bin or ashtray can influence whether it is used or not.”

p.12 Guide to Preventing Cigarette Butt Littering, NSW EPA


Their recommendations included:


Bin Placement:

  • Place your cigarette bin an appropriate distance from pedestrian entrances or exists of a public building.


Bin Design:

All bins should have the following characteristics:

  • Large enough to hold a high volume of cigarette butts
  • Easy to clean and use, with large holes to insert the cigarette butts
  • Clear signage that indicates it is for cigarette butts
  • Hard to break open where scavenging is an issue


At a glance - other top tips to reduce cigarette litter

  • The first step toward preventing cigarette butt litter is to understand the extent of the problem. NSW EPA has created a Butt Litter Check to capture a range of data that will help you measure the extent of the problem. Available here
  • Littering rates are generally higher in transition points where smokers are required to finish a cigarette en route to the next destination, compared to places set aside where people can sit, relax, and smoke.
  • Cleanliness influences the effectiveness of the smoking area. Litter attracts litter.
  • Getting feedback from smokers about how to create and improve a smoking zone. Building ownership is key to reducing cigarette butt litter People litter an area less when they have a greater sense of ownership of an area.  
  • Cigarette bins must be appropriately fixed into the ground or wall to minimise the likelihood of being broken into.


Need help with your cigarette bin choice? SHOP OUR CIGARETTE BIN RANGE