Butt Out: A Behavior-Based Data-Driven Model for Reducing Trash in Commercial Areas

Date / Time:
Tuesday, Oct 16 2:10pm to 2:40pm
Meeting Room 1-3 (Lower Level)
Track / Session:
Trash Track / Trash Assessment and Tracking

The purpose of this presentation is to demonstrate a data-driven, behavior-based model for developing effective outreach aimed at reducing trash. Reducing trash not only directly impacts water quality, but may also reduce maintenance needs for capture devices. Therefore, the behavior-based focus of this presentation is applicable to both Track 1 and Track 2 municipalities. Trash and litter as stormwater pollutants present a unique challenge, as it is often transported a great distance from its original source. This creates significant challenges for achieving behavior change through traditional information and awareness measures focused on trash. There are numerous behaviors and audiences associated with reducing trash including covering trash cans in commercial areas, cleaning up loading docks, placing cigarette butts in appropriate bins, covering up truck loads, packing out trash on hiking trails, and reducing use of single-use plastics, to name a few. However, achieving measurable changes in behavior requires tying observed trash back to its source or audience and then developing an understanding of both the personal and contextual factors that result in the trash entering the storm drain system. For example, if fast food packaging is identified in storm drains or in receiving waters, it may be that fast food patrons are littering by tossing fast food packaging out of their cars, but it also may be that birds are removing packaging from uncovered trash cans, or that the fast food establishments have dumpsters that are overflowing. Each of these audiences and situations would need to be addressed in a different way and without an understanding of the audiences and behaviors, it is nearly impossible to create effective public outreach strategies.In 2018, the County of San Diego embarked on a behavior-based trash pilot study focused on commercial areas. The pilot study began with systematic observations of trash and litter across 36 retail centers located across unincorporated San Diego County. The study included observations of existing litter (amount, location, and type), collection bins, and other contextual information (e.g., number of patrons and employees). The results of the observations pointed to cigarette butts as the most prominent type of trash across all the 36 locations. There was also an observed lack of cigarette butt receptacles, particularly in employee break areas. Based on the contextual information gathered from the observations, a series of interviews were conducted with store managers, customers, and employees to identify motivational factors associated with cigarette butt littering and explore partnerships with the stores for implementing cigarette butt receptacles. Results of the interviews directly inform the development of testable strategies aimed at reducing cigarette butt litter.

Primary Speaker:
Jennifer Tabanico, Action Research

Jennifer Tabanico is President and owner of Action Research, a firm that specializes in changing behavior for the public good by applying marketing and social science research to outreach programs that promote clean, healthy, and sustainable communities. Jennifer has a Master of Arts degree in Experimental Psychology and more than 15 years of experience developing and implementing community-based programs for public and private agencies. Her work has spanned a broad range of social and community issues including water quality, waste and recycling, litter prevention, energy-efficiency, water conservation, and sustainable forestry.  She has worked for a range of public and private clients including the City and County of San Diego, the American Forest Foundation, and the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN).  Ms. Tabanico has authored several publications in both academic and technical outlets including the Journal of Environmental Psychology, Social Influence, and Social Marketing Quarterly. Jennifer also serves as an instructor for the University of California San Diego (UCSD) Extension’s Behavior Change and Sustainability certificate program. 

Supporting Speaker 1:
Nick del Valle, County of San Diego