Understanding littering behaviour

Extensive research has helped us get under the skin of gum littering and establish principles for best practice in tackling it.

"When I’m rushing for the train and juggling bags and trying to get my ticket... sometimes I’ll quickly spit it out on the pavement."

Why do people litter gum?

The good news is that most chewers do the right thing and dispose of their gum correctly: 75% say they always put it in the bin, with a further 19% saying they bin it most of the time 1. So even those who do litter don’t do it all the time.

It’s widely assumed that a small hardcore of people (e.g. teenagers) are the problem, however our research has shown this isn’t the case. Behavioural studies have found no difference in littering between age groups and simply that young people are more likely to admit to littering.

Likelihood to drop gum varies considerably and is determined much more by the environment and the situation people find themselves in than by the individual themselves. Major new ethnographic research2 that we commissioned highlighted particular circumstances in which gum is more likely to be littered, like in and around public transport hubs, shopping streets, cut throughs or near food or drink outlets.

It is at these specific locations that we have tested the campaigns now available through this site and at which we would recommend targeting your activity in future.

Contact us for more information on our research

Guiding principles for tackling littered gum

There is only one solution to the problem and it is simple: the bin is the only place for used gum

  • We should be explicit in telling consumers that used gum goes in the bin and not assume that everyone already knows the correct way to dispose of it.
  • Don’t use indirect language like “dispose of your gum responsibly”

The vast majority of litterers know what they’re doing is wrong: we just need to nudge them to do the right thing more often

  • We should take a positive approach which highlights the behaviour we do want from people (rather than the behaviour we don’t want) and openly communicate the fact that most people bin their gum
  • Don’t focus on the problem or demonise litterers

The place matters more than the person: certain locations attract far more littered gum than others so these should be our focus

  • Interventions should target the problem not the person and work for a broad range of ages and types of person
  • Don’t assume that litter is created by a particular demographic group as focusing in this way can cause offence or prove counterproductive
  1. 1.

    Source: Wrigley Global Gum Disposal Study in USA, UK, Germany, Russia and China, The Lifesights Company, August 2016. Sample size 4,025, chewers only.

  2. 2.

    Source: Understanding Gum Littering Ethnographic Research, Revealing Reality, July 2016, UK.