Technology in the fight against litter

 

Despite all the initiatives, there is still no lasting solution to the fight against litter. Fost Plus, which is responsible for the recycling of household packaging, sees litter as a real thorn in our side. Managing Director Wim Geens explains the vision behind the Click, a project designed to remove litter from the streets using a digital reward mechanism.

“We have registered around 28,000 clicks since the project started. Which means 28,000 fewer pieces of litter, that’s how we see it.” Fost Plus Managing Director Wim Geens is talking about the Click, Fost Plus’s ambitious litter project. With the Click, Fost Plus aims to bring about a change in behaviour that will remove litter from the streets for good. So litter bins in the streets of six Belgian communes* have turned pink and via geolocation in the Click app you can exchange rubbish for digital coins that give you the right to advantages at local businesses and municipal services. “It's about the packaging of something that you have eaten or drunk on the go, or litter that you have picked up. You scan it in, throw it in the litter bin and receive Circular UCoins. Easy.”

 

Nudging in the right direction

And that's the core of the matter: you don’t need any extra infrastructure and there’s no organisation involved. Everyone can take part, any time, any place. Just as we sort waste and packaging at home, out of home it should be equally natural to do the right thing. But it seems as though we still need a bit of a push. “Everyone makes subconscious choices every day, weighing the advantages against the perceived disadvantages. But this is precisely the problem: sometimes those extra 50 metres to the next litter bin are just too much, or a nice clean inside pocket seems more appealing than holding on to that tissue for a bit longer. With the Click, we aim to provide an incentive to do just that. This is the nudging principle: leading people towards the right behaviour with a small reward.”

Wim Geens is realistic about whether a proverbial carrot like this will make stubborn litterbugs change: “We can’t lose sight of the fact that first and foremost, litter is the result of an attitude problem with one individual that bothers us collectively. So it is unlikely that absolutely nothing will end up on the ground. However, those who do want to do the right thing – pick up litter – can now be rewarded for it. So we are setting a positive trend in motion. Which is why the Click complements all other actions, including enforcement – which will always remain crucial.”

 

A clear commitment from businesses

Litter is an umbrella term for lots of items that we find on the streets and in the countryside. Packaging is part of it, but it goes much further than that: cigarette ends, face masks, dog dirt, etc. It is precisely because of this fraction of packaging that does not end up in a rubbish bin, that Fost Plus – and its members – attach so much importance to the fight against litter. “Belgians are generally good at sorting. We have made it as easy as possible for them: almost all plastic packaging, metal packaging and drinks cartons can be put in the same blue bag, we collect paper and cardboard from homes and you take glass to the bottle bank. The same sorting rules apply everywhere. That means we can recycle efficiently. By recycling packaging to make raw materials that can be used for new packaging or products, we also protect our natural sources. For our members – companies in industry and trade – this is vitally important. Not only do consumers expect that of them, but Europe, too, is imposing very stringent recycling goals. If, as a producer, you want to guarantee that by 2025 your packaging will consist entirely of recycled material, then it is really important to collect all empty packaging for recycling. This way, the raw materials stay in the chain. And however well we do, unfortunately there are still leakages, among other things packaging that ends up as litter.”


Data-driven innovation

The fact that technology plays a major role in the race towards more sustainability is nothing new. Just think of the massive investments in sorting and recycling technology in the past few years to separate the types of materials in the New Blue Bag flawlessly and then recycle them to produce high-quality secondary raw materials. The Circular UCoins at the centre of the Click are another great example of tech for good. “Circular UCoins are closed-loop virtual value drivers. There is no cash involved and they cannot be traded. Participating companies, communes and organisations determine for themselves which advantages they link to them. That creates efficiency and transparency. Not only that, but the system enables targeted testing of which rewards prompt people to change their behaviour as regards litter and sorting out of home.”

Clearly, then, Fost Plus has great plans with the Click. Because simply by recycling all packaging, including that which is currently lost in litter, we can close the loop and create a circular economy for household packaging.

*You can now click in Anderlecht, Antwerp, Namur and at the coast. Events like the Eneco Clean Beach Cup also involve the Click.