Anti-littering campaigns might have helped keep most soda cans off the side of the road, but they haven’t really worked with cigarettes. Around 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are tossed on sidewalks and streets each year, eventually filling waterways with plastic and chemicals that kill fish. Since scolding smokers and banning litter hasn't met with much success, a group of Dutch designers took a different approach—a trash can that offers a somewhat ridiculous musical reward.
Every time someone throws a cigarette butt inside, the Fumo trash bin puts on a show, playing a song and flashing like a slot machine. The songs keep changing, giving smokers an incentive to keep coming back.
When a smoker first approaches the bin, the lights start to blink to draw them in. "It’s kind of a teaser," says Raymond Reints, one of the designers. "We added the feature when we realized that people had no idea what the bin could do."
In tests so far, Dutch smokers seem to love the pole. "What really surprised us is that people actually started picking up cigarette butts to put them in the pole, just to get an extra taste of what it can do," Reints says.
The music can be customized for any location. Directly outside an office building, for example, it might be a little quieter, or less carnival-like, to avoid annoying everyone inside. A Dutch hospital is considering installing a pole, but wants to avoid music that makes smoking sound like a celebration.
"We see Fumo as a platform, something that can be made specifically for each context," Reints says. "We're also talking with a couple of festivals—that's a place where we can do so many weird things that incorporate play, or encourage people to interact with each other."
The designers think that the bins might make a measurable difference in litter. "We believe that using fun as a methodology to cause some certain behavior is much more effective than creating laws or restrictions," Reints says. "If you can get people to enjoy the message that you want to bring them, then you’ll have a much bigger impact with the message itself."
Of course, part of the problem in some cities might also just be a lack of bins. Another project attaches bins to streetposts, so smokers never have far to walk with their trash. Since London added these "Smartbins," the city has collected 7.5 million cigarette butts per year.
Another solution might just be eliminating filters completely, as researchers argued in a recent study. The filters don't really make cigarettes any healthier—their main purpose seems to be creating trash.