Awareness campaigns to deal with microplastic pollution

Scientific study shows that implementation of public awareness campaigns reduces waste associated with visitors to beaches by more than 50%.

A recently published study by the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology (ICTA-UAB) shows that 80% of summer accumulated debris in the Mediterranean comes from tourism. This research, carried out within the framework of the European project BLUEISLANDS and published in the journal Scientific Reports, shows the great impact this economic activity has and the need to bet on a more sustainable tourism model.

As mentioned in this scientific paper, the amount of litter present on beaches varies greatly depending on the time of the year. Thus, waste is multiplied by 5 during the high season compared to the low season. This data is based on eight Mediterranean islands where the study was conducted: Mallorca, Sicily (Italy), Rab (Croatia), Mykonos, Rhodes, Crete (Greece), Cyprus and Malta. If extrapolated to all Mediterranean islands, we obtain the impressive figure of 40 million waste items accumulated per day between July and August on Mediterranean beaches.

Most of this found litter is plastic materials, such as straws or bottle caps, that have the consequent risk of becoming microplastics when degraded. There is also a high presence of cigarette butts and beverage cans. Thanks to this information, we have a clear view of the impact of the current tourism model on debris generation in the Mediterranean and the subsequent damage it can cause when this waste reaches marine environment.

However, this research also showed very positive information: the beneficial impact of awareness campaigns aimed at tourists and locals. On beaches where campaigns with informers were carried out, there was a significant reduction in rubbish: between 21% and 99% depending on the beach, with an average decrease of more than 50% – if we compare the 2017 data (prior to the carrying out of awareness campaigns) with that of 2019 (subsequent to the campaigns).

Awareness campaigns with people reporting on the ground are more effective

In an interview with Dr Michaël Grelaud, one of the study’s researchers, for Anthesis Lavola’s Education blog, highlighted the role of having people informing and interacting directly with citizens and tourists. In fact, among the studied beaches, the one that did not have people reporting on the beach or with rubbish bins was the only one where an increase in the amount of waste was observed.

This data reinforces the effectiveness of Awareness Campaigns such as those carried out at Anthesis Lavola, which aim to raise awareness and promote new habits among citizens. Whether to improve beach cleanliness, strengthen selective collection in cities or encourage more responsible consumption, awareness and communication campaigns have a significant impact.

In fact, in a recently published article we stated that direct interaction with citizens is key to achieving awareness campaigns goals. In our opinion, some of the most relevant goals are:

  • Empathy: citizens are more receptive to receiving information when it is passed on to them by a person like them: another citizen. Receptivity in many population segments increases if it is not a law enforcement officer who communicates it.
  • Adaptation of speech: each person has knowledge and convictions prior to awareness action; detecting them is key to adapting the discourse and generating maximum impact on the interlocutor.
  • Training as a key to success: a good informant must have different skills and knowledge (technical and relational) to successfully challenge the public. We train all of Anthesis Lavola’s reporting teams in communication skills, and in the post-lockdown episode, training in conflict mediation will be especially important.
  • Awareness versus reporting: the informative action conveys a message in a one-way manner. The sender can adapt the channel, language, or format to the receiver, but does not take into account the other person’s conditions we are addressing. In contrast, in awareness-raising actions, personalized attention becomes crucial. The receiver and his or her personal context are the starting point of the sender to adapt the communicative attitude and expose the message ensuring its understanding.
  • A smile: the first impression an informant makes matters; a good presence and a positive attitude to break the ice with the citizen allow the informant to intervene in an atmosphere of mutual trust.

Anthesis Lavola’s Campaigns team has extensive experience in design, implementation and comprehensive management of campaigns, adapting them to the goals and the environment of each place, collecting data to quantify the results and developing the communication materials needed to deliver key messages efficiently to the target audience. In this way, we ensure a correct execution and evaluation to guarantee the maximum impact on citizenship.

If you are interested in the campaigns we run or want more information, you can contact Laura Toset, Campaign Manager at Anthesis Lavola.

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