Eyes on packaging could help tackle litter problem


PRINTING an image of eyes on packaging could be the key to reducing littering, new research has shown.

The study, led by Professor Daniel Nettle and Professor Melissa Bateson of the Centre for Behaviour and Evolution at Newcastle University, involved placing two different flyers on bicycles and observing the results.

Professor Nettle told Packaging Scotland, “We’ve been working on littering for a long time and one of the main things we’ve done is this so-called ‘watching eyes effect’.

“There are a number of lines of evidence that people are very sensitive to being watched. We care what others think about us so when there are others watching, we behave differently.

“The ‘watching eyes effect’ is actually that, even if you just use artificial images of eyes, that elicits behavior as if we were really being watched, though of course we’re not actually.”

Professor Nettle went on to explain the study, “We made these flyers that were nothing to do with littering. The flyers were about telling you that you should lock your bike, and we left them on bicycles in such a way that when the person came back to get their bicycle, they had to remove the flyer from their handlebar.

“We imagined that quite a lot of people would probably just chuck them on the ground.”

The flyers used in the study featured either a stern pair of male eyes or the exact same flyer with a bike lock instead of the eyes.

Professor Nettle added, “We observed from a safe distance to see how often people did actually chuck them on the ground and we found that the odds of chucking them on the ground were much lower if they had the eyes on, compared to the one with the bike lock on.”

The results of the study showed that just 4.7% of people dropped the leaflet with eyes compared to 15.6% of those with the bike lock.

“I think that there’s a promising thing here because our flyers didn’t say ‘don’t litter this flyer’, Professor Nettle said. “They didn’t make any reference to littering at all, it’s just that littering is a slightly shameful act and you don’t want to do it if you feel like you’re being watched.

“What it suggests to us is you might be able to affect littering, not by verbal messages saying ‘you mustn’t litter’, but simply by, if you could incorporate faces or eyes into packaging.

“Our eyes were kind of large and scary and intimidating and obviously manufacturers might not want to do that, but maybe something like a nice, appealing face looking at you could be a design feature of packaging. It would be really interesting to know if that would that be acceptable to manufacturers and would it actually reduce the littering of their products.”