There is no litter in Japan. None at all. Not anywhere. Even in the Shibuya, the busiest area of Tokyo, the streets are perfectly clean and litter-free.

What’s even more intriguing is that there are no litter bins in Japan. Everyone simply takes their rubbish home with them.

If you think about it, litter bins encourage people to dispose of their litter wherever they happen to be. In that sense they perpetuate rather than change littering behaviour.

I know that nudge theory is now a popular concept in behavioural economics, but sometimes a more radical change is required. Even after the take up of Total Quality Management, Kaizen, Continuous Improvement, Six Sigma, Lean Management, there are still the metaphorical litter bins in most businesses.

At one client of mine, a team was set up at the end of the production line to review the quality of the products coming off the line and to fix any problems. They were the production line’s litter bin: the team helped keep overall product quality higher, but their existence only served to encourage poor behaviour elsewhere in the factory.

It was only when management decided to remove the ‘quality’ team and properly measured the quality performance of the production teams that people started to fully take responsibility for their work and the underlying quality scores began to improve.

Where are the metaphorical litter bins in your organisation, and what steps are you taking to remove them?

Off The Record: Trash by New York Dolls

Trash, go pick it up, take them lights away,

Trash, go pick it up, go put that knife away,

Trash, go pick it up, don’t give your life away,

Trash, go pick it up, don’t throw your love away.