top of page
Cig 3.jpg

An European City
Tackling cigarette litter

Switzerland is one of the world’s leading champions of sustainability. However, cigarette littering remains an intractable problem in the country, which has a cold climate and an abundance of smokers. These improperly disposed cigarette butts leach nicotine and heavy metals into the environment.


We started by speaking with a number of smokers, non-smokers, as well as urban design experts. We also spent time observing the behaviour of the smokers with a focus on disposal of the cigarette litter.


We found that there were not one but four different segments of smokers. We classified them as Responsible, Conscious, Busy Bees, Rebels and Immobiles. Responsible smokers sought out appropriate places to dispose of the butts. Conscious ones made their best efforts to do the right thing but often ended up leaving butts on top of the trash cans either because there were no ash receptacles or because the opening of the ash receptacle is too small.Busy Bees were busy and wouldn’t make an effort if a trashcan wasn’t nearby. The Rebels would throw the butts on the road even if the trashcan was next to them.

We found that the city had different bin designs in different places that will make it confusing for the smokers. The ash receptacles had a smaller opening which forced smokers to avoid getting to it. The bin placement was at the edge of the platforms and smokers in the middle could not dispose properly. Also, there were not enough bins with ash receptacles.

After some deliberation, we decided to focus on the Conscious segment. Not only did they represent the largest segment at 41% of the smoking population, they were also most likely to change their behavior. They just needed a gentle nudge.

We ideated with a broad set of stakeholders including smokers, non-smokers, sanitation professionals, and designers. We ended up taking a 3-pronged approach. We increased the size of the opening of the ashtray receptacle, increased the density of trash cans, and introduced an element of gamification. During our research we found that in certain places in the UK, trash cans had logos of sports teams on them. Apparently that was meant to encourage fans of opposing teams to throw their litter away in those trash cans. We took a similar approach in Geneva. 

Three of the recommendations have been already implemented and the segmentation of the smokers gave a powerful framework to rethink how to optimize and focus on the right segment to create maximum impact.

bottom of page