Community-Based Social Marketing to Prevent Litter


Since 2007, the Alice Ferguson Foundation (AFF) has partnered with community members, local jurisdictions, non-profits and businesses to prevent litter through a community-based social marketing campaign.

The Regional Litter Prevention Campaign is an outreach campaign to change littering behavior throughout the Washington DC metropolitan region. Based on years of research with focus groups and backed by rigorous assessments, the Campaign led to a 30% reduction in observable littering behavior in targeted DC neighborhoods between 2013 and 2015 and a 45% reduction in observable littering behavior in targeted Prince George’s County neighborhoods between 2011 and 2013.

Social marketing is the use of traditional marketing principles and techniques to encourage a specific socially responsible behavior[1]. Community-based social marketing means that the campaign is carried out at the local scale and that community members are directly involved in the design, implementation, evaluation and revision of the campaign[2]. Decades of social psychology research show that these frameworks can effectively promote environmentally responsible behaviors.

The Regional Litter Prevention Campaign uses proven social-marketing techniques, including prompts, commitments, intrinsic rewards and others. Messages like “Your Litter Hits Close to Home” and “Take Control, Take Care of your Trash” prompt individuals to think about the impact of littering behaviors on themselves, their homes and their communities. Community members can commit to be leaders in their community by participating in a cleanup or adopting a litter can. AFF also provides training, supplies and an online toolkit for community members, non-profits and businesses that want to implement the campaign in their community.

Community-based social marketing is a valuable approach to changing littering behavior and many of the principles of AFF’s Regional Litter Prevention Campaign could be implemented in any community.

Interested in learning more or trying this in your watershed? Here are some things you can do:

  • AFF’s 11th Annual Trash Summit is on November 16th at Nationals Park in Washington DC. Early bird registration is now open! AFF will be highlighting several behavior change strategies for trash reduction, as well as structural and community-scale solutions. The theme is Transforming Communities for Clean Land, Safe Water and Healthy Lives and many of the topics will be focused on how local solutions can be scaled to address regional concerns.
  • Check out AFF’s Trash Free Schools program and Trash Free Schools guidebook to promote waste reduction within schools.


[1] Kotler, P., & Lee, N. (2008). Social marketing: Influencing behaviors for good. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.

[2] McKenzie-Mohr, D. (2011). Fostering sustainable behavior: An introduction to community-based social marketing.


Laura Cattell Noll is the Assistant Program Manager at Alice Ferguson Foundation where she manages all aspects of the Trash Free Potomac Watershed Initiative, including outreach, education and stewardship programs. She has more than eight years of experience managing and implementing community-based environmental stewardship projects across the Chesapeake Bay watershed. 

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