Drone technology and AI used in UK-first to tackle litter in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole

Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole will be the focus of a ground-breaking pilot scheme this summer which will see drone-based technology used to tackle the issue of litter.

BCP Council is partnering with the environmental charity Hubbub and McDonald’s to trial a unique approach which will see intelligence gathered from drone data to inform the future placement of bins, street cleansing schedules and behaviour change campaigns to encourage visitors to dispose of their litter responsibly. The initiative will deploy new drone-based technology to help tackle the scourge of litter in what will be the most scientifically robust litter survey ever undertaken in the UK.

Thanks to funding from McDonald’s, cutting-edge technology will identify and categorise individual pieces of litter, to give unprecedented insight into what types of litter is being dropped where and when. The campaign will use drones, fixed cameras and mobile and vehicle technology to create detailed litter maps, identifying hot spots and building an understanding of how the litter is travelling. The technology was used in the Italian town of Sorrento last summer, where it was hailed a huge success - enabling authorities to reduce litter by 45% and cigarette butt waste by 69%. This was done through communication campaigns with visitors and business owners and strategically placing new litterbins and ash trays across the town, based on the data collected.

Insights into littering behaviour are vital to make the most of considerable budgets invested by councils up and down the country to tackle the scourge of litter. This summer BCP Council will be able to use intelligence from the drone data to inform the strategic placement of bins, street cleaning schedules and engaging interventions designed by Hubbub to encourage the public to dispose of their litter responsibly.

Last week, local residents in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole may have spotted the first drones flying over beaches, parks, high streets and open spaces. These were not surveillance drones but were in fact monitoring litter while the majority of lockdown restrictions are in place to show how clean our streets, parks and beaches can be if we care for the local area. The audit will be repeated in May as the weather improves and further lock down restrictions ease. This data will inform a series of litter-busting interventions over the course of the summer and a further survey will take place in July to assess the effectiveness of the actions taken. The data collated by Ellipsis regarding litter trends, hotspots and behaviour will also play a vital role in longer term BCP bin strategy.

Councillor Mark Anderson, Portfolio Holder for Environment, Cleansing and Waste, BCP Council said: “We are delighted to have been invited to participate in this national collaboration, at no cost to the council, which will enhance our plans to tackle the issue of litter across our three towns. We’ve been voted the UK’s best beach, so this on top of the fact that we’re ranked number five in Europe, means our beaches are amongst the best in the world. We are preparing to welcome visitors, when it is safe to do so, to our beaches, parks, open spaces and high streets during what is set to be a bumper summer. We are a holiday destination and we are proud of that. Litter is everyone’s responsibility. We will be very clear when we welcome responsible visitors to our resort, they should respect and protect our resort, behave reasonably and pick up after themselves.

“As part of the council’s £3.5million summer readiness preparations, which includes littering, we are pulling out all the stops to make sure our beaches, town centres, parks and open spaces are ready for visitors. This will see extra large bins to deal with the additional waste and putting in place more daily collections, with manual crews on standby when the locations such as the promenade become busy.

“The pilot we are intending to run with Hubbub and McDonald’s will enhance that existing work, I’m really look forward to seeing the project get underway and the results we can all benefit from.”

Trewin Restorick, CEO and co-founder of Hubbub said: “We were really inspired by the impact of this technology which we’ve seen work so successfully in Sorrento. Basing behaviour change activity on real data will really help us maximise impact and we’re excited by what could be achieved. Litter continues to cause problems for authorities in every part of the country. We want to create a replicable campaign that can be used as a template for future projects in other locations. Collaboration is at the heart of this campaign, so we’re keen to get as many local businesses and community groups on board to play their part.”

Helen McFarlane, Senior Sustainability Consultant for McDonald’s, said: “We are thrilled to be funding this truly innovative campaign, along with some of our key packaging and drinks suppliers. Our teams have been carrying out litter patrols in our communities for nearly 40 years; this intervention is a real step-change allowing us to leverage technology and data to not only make clearing litter more impactful, but to help improve behaviour and encourage those people who do litter to act more responsibly. We are delighted to be collaborating with Hubbub and BCP Council on this campaign and want to encourage other businesses and groups to join us.”

Ellie Mackay CEO and founder of Ellipsis Earth said: “Bournemouth is a beautiful and much-loved location that is in critical need of littering data so we are thrilled to be able to deliver this UK-first smart survey, and to highlight the power of using advanced technology for environmental protection and behaviour change. The deep analysis of the data will provide recommendations to help keep litter levels within manageable levels this summer and beyond. We hope the public can also use our data to learn more about the impact of littering as well as seeing the direct impacts of their responsible actions.”

Soft drinks producer and McDonalds’ supplier Britvic is also funding the project along with two packaging suppliers.

Local businesses and communities are being encouraged to support the campaign – from organising litter picks to amplifying messages on social media and can get in contact here for more information: hello@hubbub.org.uk