Help us nudge for cleaner beaches


We wrote this post for two reasons. Firstly, we wanted to share our thinking on a small environmental project we are working on. Secondly, and more importantly, to get you to come and help us with the initial intervention! Read on to find out more.

Proviso, we're calling this an express behavioural design process. Normally we would dive a lot deeper into each of these phases of the process, but there are two clocks ticking on this issue:

  • Summer holidays have started and so the beaches are filling up as we speak! 

  • The team is going on holiday on the 21st.


Just a quick reminder of our behavioural design process. It’s divided into the following four stages:

Define - Define the behavioural objective you are looking to achieve.

Diagnose - Identifying the key levers associated with your behavioural objective.

Design - Develop tactics that shift behaviour towards your objective behaviour.

Test - Test the efficacy of your intervention and adjust it accordingly.

For more on this process sign up to our 5 part email series here.   


What's the problem? 

During the summer months, many of Cape Town’s beaches get trashed… literally! If you go and have a look at them in the early morning, before the city’s clean up crews arrive, you will see a coating of bottles, plastic packets and food containers over what was a once pristine, white sandy beach. There are the obvious environmental issues here, with the Cape Doctor eagerly waiting to sweep all the trash straight into the unsuspecting baby seal’s mouth. The other issue is that it is an unnecessary drain on the city’s resources to have to clean up after everyone to ensure that things look spritely for the German tourists that have just flown in for their summer adventure in ‘AFRICA’.


Developing a solution

Our behavioural objective would be to get people to take only photos and leave only footprints after visiting the beach. To breaking this down into something more measurable, we would like to see beachies take their trash and put it either into bins or take it home with them.

At this stage, we would normally conduct research to diagnose the behaviour. In this instance, this would involve going out to the beach to observe and chat to beachies and city workers. The goal would be to try to better understand how people are making decisions and understand the environment that they are doing this in. This investigation will be part of the intervention deployment.

Our initial assumptions are as follows:

  • People don’t come to the beach thinking about taking their trash home with them. Instead, they come to have fun and relax. This lack of preparation means that many people do not have a trash bag to put dirty bottle and chip packets in.

  • Most of the time the bins are on the edge of the beach, which is usually far from where beachies are chilling with their mates. They don’t want to have to get up each time they finish a drink, leave the circle, and miss the joke their mate was about to tell, just to put a bottle in the bin.

But these are just our initial thoughts. I'm sure we will learn more as we start engaging with people.

The initial intervention we have decided to implement is really simple. It will involve a group of individuals (you and me), in high visibility vests, walking around the beach in the afternoon and early evening, handing out trash bags to beachies, while giving them basic instructions and ocean trash facts.

We have decided on this intervention for 4 reasons:

  1. We want to see if simply introducing a easy mechanism to collect trash (a trash bag) to a group nudges people to collect trash

  2. It is really easy to deploy and requires very low input costs

  3. It will give us an opportunity to engage with beachies and gather further insight

  4. It will help test our core assumptions stated earlier

So how do we know if the intervention has been successful? We will use some simple metrics:

  1. What is the number of unfilled trash bags lying on the beach after the intervention has been implemented?

  2. What is number of filled trash bags after the intervention has been implemented?

  3. If we want to get really fancy, we could time how long it takes the clean up team to clean the beach before and after the intervention has been implemented.


Time to get involved!

Now that you know where this project is headed, we would like you to tell us if you would like to get involved! 

Comment your beach experiences this festive season or share with us some ideas on how we can motivate people to clean up after themselves on the beaches.


Do you have a behavioural challenge? Get in touch!