How Much Money Sends A Message?




Although this title might sound slightly mafia-esque, that’s not at all what sparked this post. This post was inspired by the “Don't Trash Our Future” campaign by Clean Up Britain and the news site “In Your Area”. Now what does an anti-littering campaign have to do with sending messages through money? Well, part of this campaign is the fact that they are calling upon the British government to increase littering fines in the UK to £1000. Hot damn. The current fine in the UK stands at £150. Which has been deemed insufficient by the campaign organisers. Don’t worry if you can’t cough up that type of money, there is a community service equivalent: 100 hours of community litter picking to be precise. If you’re wondering whether that’s all, no it isn’t. The campaign also wants for the government to make it compulsory for every Council in Britain to enforce the law. You know, do their basic job essentially. Now the latter seems fair: reinforcing the law and doing your job as a result of reinforcing the law, most people can agree to that. But it’s the raising of the fine to over six-fold which raises some eyebrows. Why does throwing away a £1 can of coke cost £150 to begin with? And what’s the point of this action now costing you £1000?


Well, if we dive into the information actually provided by Clean Up Britain, the reasoning behind this campaign is quite evident. According to CUB “Britain is suffering from a litter epidemic.” Despite laws existing to keep the country [UK] clean, they are flouted or enforced on a massive scale - as recent scenes at beauty spots across the UK only serve to prove. This campaign is set up to push for changes they believe will force littering to be taken far more seriously. And a £1000 fine will do exactly that. Once you get over the initial shock of that massive amount of value, you start to take it a whole lot more seriously. About £1000 more seriously!

Don’t worry, this campaign isn’t just screaming that litter is a problem. The Don't Trash Our Future campaign is in direct response to the shocking stats revealed by a recent In Your Area survey showing that:

  • 85% of Brits think litter to be a 'big' or 'major' problem

  • 96% agree litter is a public health concern

  • 64% of Brits believe the problem has worsened since lock down has eased

  • Most people think their council is doing a bad job of dealing with litter - on a scale of one to 10, the average was four

  • Over a third (34%) believe the current fine (£150) for littering is too low and should be raised to upwards of £500

  • 90% don't know anybody who has been fined for dropping litter

If you look at those stats you can easily get into the mindset of someone who litters. And this often isn’t a person with malicious intent. This is often just someone walking through a park (possibly intoxicated) who’s primary desire is to get rid of their litter, can’t find a trash can and become impatient as a result. The fact that the £150 fine is there isn’t too much of an issue. It’s never enforced anyway. The stats bear this out. No one knows anyone who’s ever been fined for littering. Isn’t that damn (in)convenient… Now you’re probably thinking, well if the fine is never enforced and there is still a lot of littering going on with the £150 fine instated, what is raising the fine to £1000 going to do? Well, it’s going to send a message. Shock and disbelief for one. And get a discussion going second. It’s the discussion, the debating of value, and the reinforcing and reinstating of social norms (to litter is bad) that, from a behavioural science perspective, is going to make the biggest difference. Sure, even in behavioural science there have been fine and punishment systems that backfired. Everyone who’s ever dipped their toe into the waters of behavioural science knows of the Israeli Kindergarten experiment. The teachers were getting tired of having to wait for parents being late constantly to pick up their children. What did they do? Install a fine system. Parents would have to pay for being late. What happened? Did parents suddenly come on time? No, of course not. I already told you this experiment backfired. Parents who were initially a bit late, now were VERY late. They had essentially “bought” themselves the privilege of not having to rush to being on time. Oops… I don’t think this is likely to happen in this scenario. There is a difference between being late and ruining the planet. Moreover, this difference in magnitude is also reflected in the fines. I’m pretty sure the parents were not fined £1000 pounds every time they were late. There is one other issue here that needs to be addressed once more: enforcement. You can bet yourself a £1000 that the kindergarten teachers enforced the fines and collected money where they were owed some. It’s now time for local councils to do the same. This stuff is important, but it doesn’t flow naturally. It’s the enforcing of the law and the collecting of immensely high fines that sends the message that this behaviour, littering, is a deviation from acceptable, and therefore normal behaviour. Going back to social norms, they take a while to learn, but once learned, they are very difficult to unlearn. Which is exactly what you’d want in this scenario.


So how much money sends a message? I’m pretty sure £1000 will do just fine. After all, littering is an offense that does damage to the planet. It’s a costly behaviour to society. And for the joy of conducting that behaviour, you will have to cough up £1000. That sends a message alright!

If you’d like to support the “Don't Trash Our Future” campaign, please do sign the petition here, and go to the site to see how else you can contribute!

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