While it is commonly accepted in Australia that most people consider littering generally to be wrong, illegal or socially unacceptable, this does not always seem to hold true when it comes to butt littering.
Prominent and consistent messaging is therefore necessary to change the public perception that butt littering is less important than littering in general, and especially to drive home its serious environmental impact.
Raising awareness of the damaging consequences of inappropriate butt disposal is a powerful way to influence behavioural change.
Peers can be a powerful tipping point in many people's decision making, and littering is no different.
A 'social norm' – what is considered socially normal as opposed to what is considered right or wrong – is also a very strong influence on how people make decisions about their behaviour.
As butt littering becomes widely unacceptable and responsible butt disposal the expected social norm, smokers will inevitably begin to change their butt littering habits.
Many smokers are likely to change their habits anyway, as they become more aware of the environmental impact of cigarette butts. This knowledge in itself can motivate change and removes the justification of "why should I?" or "what's the big deal?".
Research has identified many reasons for butt littering behaviour:
Some smokers acknowledge that they know they shouldn't litter, but still do – often blaming their own laziness. Some simply dismiss responsibility: "it's not my fault, there's nowhere to put it".
Many don't see butts as litter at all, or think that butt littering doesn't matter: "they're only small", "they're made from harmless cotton", or "they're swept up by someone".
Butt Free Australia's campaigns aim to address attitudes and perceptions such as these through education and encouragement.
Our ultimate objective is to increase the critical mass of people who either expect that others should bin their butts, or if they are smokers, bin their own butts by choice.
Awareness messages work best if they are kept simple, have a positive tone and make a connection for the litterer.
Avenues for raising public awareness are plentiful, but not always that easy to obtain. Competing issues, cost and time – not to mention the many other distractions – all have an impact.
Channels include print advertising, community service announcements, radio advertising and live reads, billboards, retail digital media, banners and displays.
If you're thinking of running your own awareness campaign, our Butt FREE Toolkit offers great ideas and free resources!