Plastic-Free Looe: A Living Laboratory

Looe has become a living laboratory for behavioural science in the fight against the plastic tide. Collaborating with the Looe Marine Conservation Group, Looe Harbour Commissioners and the University of Exeter, Looe is trialling seven new designs of riverside signs that are testing out innovative behaviour-changing theories against the ineffective methods of the past. 

In Looe, a coastal community reliant on tourism and fishing, plastics enter the river during the tourism season at a alarming rate. The plastic entering the river is threatening the Looe and Whitsand Bay marine conservation zone downriver, causing damage to the fishing boats and harming the appeal of Looe as a tourist destination. 

The Bigger Picture

Globally, plastic is one of the most visible aspects of our altered relationship to the natural world – with a layer of it found in every marine and terrestrial environment. It is clear now plastic is a problem, why then is it still entering sensitive environments? Well the local harm and global change we are driving is often invisible when we decide to buy a product or chose to discard it. 

Looe - a 'Living lab'? 
Nudge signs use biases in our brains to attract attention and
change behaviour. Looe provides a testing ground, as these
 nudges have never been tested against each other before. 

The aim is to create the most effective anti-littering nudge. 

Behavioural 'nudge’ signs have been dotted along the harbour in a control and treatment experiment design on the harbour pilings. They have been paired with crabbing signs as part of a local conservation project. 

These 'nudges' lever our connections to community, our societal norms and make the consequences of littering clear, reminding us of the wildlife at stake. We hope one or more of these signs will prove effective in reducing the large percent of the plastic entering the river during the tourist season. In a broad sense, the results of this project can provide a better understanding of environmental behaviour and find more effective solutions to the environmental challenges Cornwall and the UK faces. 

The insights gained will also help any community, business or organisation experiencing environmental problems due to the behaviour of visitors, who are often not invested in the places they visit, helping coastal communities to make signage that is targeted and effective reducing the tide of plastic entering our oceans.

This behaviour change project was only made possible by generous donation of time and skills from Melissa Carne graphic design and my collaborators at Looe Marine Conservation Group and Looe Harbour Commissioners.