3Ps to keeping public spaces and events clean and litter-free

Water Festival 2016 was an environmental disaster for Cambodia, as over 60,000 sqm worth of trash was swept into the river for 3 nights in a row.

This thrusted the topic of single use plastic and litter back into the limelight in an already simmering pot of frustration over Cintri’s poor performance for waste management in Phnom Penh.

This changed The Idea from a company running CSR activities to a full-fledged socially responsible business.

Our CEO at the time, Mr. G, happened to be eating classic Cambodian Mee Cha out of a styrofoam box when he saw pictures of the trash, and immediately acknowledged a truth he had been putting off for a long time.

“We need to radically change our systems of thinking and behaviour to put an end to this issue, this meant a full commitment to change both outside and inside the business.”

The Idea immediately began testing methods and collecting data on behavioural change in the area, beginning with their own team.

This sparked a series of social initiatives to learn unique Cambodian insights for behavioural change to reduce litter and waste at public events, these initiatives include Slaprea, Cambodia’s Biggest Food Festival and Volunteer Nation, among numerous other CSR activities which will be covered in future blogs.

The Idea was engaged pro bono by the Ministry of Environment in 2017 and successfully reduced litter by over 60%. After more successful events and campaigns, The Idea has summarized into 3 Ps for any company or invidual to keep as guides when making any form behavioural change and control in a public place.


This is where you jump to the whiteboard and draw tonnes of boxes and arrows, then rub it all out and start again.

This ‘P’ is a reminder to write on paper your simplified play-by-play on who does what, where and when. In the instance of Water Festival in Cambodia, the riverside is fraught with congestion and infrastructure issues, the only way to get trash out is plan to get your trash out. Sounds simple right?

Apparently not, actually sitting down and creating a process-map is one of the biggest pitfalls for organizers, many people say they want to do it, but don’t as this part of the role is neither sexy nor does it scream urgency. A process which is stress-tested, written down and communicated thoroughly in-person or through phone call would save both future time and significantly increase chances of keeping your event clean.

Some questions to help you develop your PROCESS:

  1. Where is the trash coming from? Can we limit it from the source?

  2. Should we have people doing public education? How many? Where do they go?

  3. At what point in its consumption does a wrapper or piece of plastic become waste? How and where should we prepare for this?

  4. Once the bins reach 3/4 full, who picks up the trash, how and where do they put it? Are they collecting trash on a schedule?

  5. Are we separating the trash? Or conglomerating it?

  6. Who picks up the trash from us? Are we able to recycle or upcycle on site?

  7. Where do we put our collected waste? How far does that need to be from people or activities?

  8. What time does our trash need to be emptied?

  9. Should we police the event with volunteers to keep it litter free?

  10. Who checks the team that is performing the above activities?

  11. Where do we put our signs so people can see them to not litter? Where can we put these signs so people actually see them?


Now that you’ve answered your process questions, you should have a much better idea of how many people you need to execute the project.

This “P” is a reminder to make sure you:

  1. Have enough people for the job

  2. Recruit well (Be strict here)

  3. Brief them

  4. And then brief them again

People are not in your head and certainly do not share the exact visions as you do, so when a situation arises where you may need to deivate from the original process or plan, you need people who can make calcuated decisions which align with that vision, with or without you there.

The second point is that this is arguably the strongest tool in your arsenal for behavioural change. Face-to-face contact means people are engaged, and in the case of litter, it’s hard to find someone shameless enough who will publicly announce that they litter. Our observation team at Slaprea found that people are much less inclined to litter once they are asked about it. This was not good for our survey accuracy for some questions as over 80% of surveyed festival-goers said they “kept their rubbish until they found a bin”, but has been one of the key tactics behind our success as a clean event despite having over 30,000 people in less than 8 hours.

Here are some guiding questions for ascertaining “People”:

  1. Does this person align with my vision for a litter-free clean event? What did I ask them to get this impression?

  2. Will this person represent me and my company well when dealing with conflict?

  3. Have I role-played this with my team yet?

  4. Am I shadowing or checking if they are performing correctly?

  5. How many people do I have collecting trash? How many do I have engaging with people?

Physical Infrastructure

This “P” refers to all the tools, equipment, signage, printed forms, tech and everything else you can see, touch, taste, hear and even smell to curb people’s behaviour to not littering. This is the last thing on your planning but first actions you take once you’ve worked out Process and People.

Our research has shown that people do read signs, but are attracted first by size, then colour, then shape before reading the text. We do not recommend only graphic signs for trash separation since this needs a an extra step, whereas anti-littering signs are almost universal.

Regarding physical infrastructure, here are some guiding questions for your event. Please note that every event is different, and physical infrastructure is governed by the flow of your event. This means get your process right before deciding what you need to execute that process.

  1. What does my team need to do their job? Do they need extras?

  2. What messages are we placing on the wayfinding to prevent people from littering?

  3. Are there special places we can put them in?

  4. Should we announce it on the PA or with the MC?

  5. How many bins do I need? How many types of bins do I need? Do my vendors need these bins too?

  6. Do I have an installation or piece which will make people double-take and think before littering?

This is a learning journey for The Idea team who will commit to environmental protection and social change. We recognize that to make any kind of dent, we need to do it together, so please feel free to comment and/or share with us your thoughts, learnings and successes in implementing litter-free events in public spaces. Our consultation and market research in this area are free and commmitted, feel free to reach out!

Click Here for our summarized consultation to the City Countil for Water Festival 2019