Belfast Telegraph

Texas: Northern Ireland's new pardner in the war on litter cowboys

By Adrian Rutherford

Northern Ireland is about to get tough with the louts behind our £40m-a-year litter problem — Texan style.

A new campaign is being launched based on a long-running and hugely successful project in the United States.

Environment Minister Alex Attwood will today pledge a major funding investment for the as yet unnamed campaign, which could begin by next April.

It draws on the ground-breaking Don’t Mess with Texas initiative, which is credited with reducing 72% of litter on the state’s highways since its introduction in the mid-1980s.

The Northern Ireland campaign, co-ordinated by Tidy NI, aims to rebuild a sense of civic pride and create a better place for people to work and live.

It will drive home the anti-litter message through branding and intense media advertising while working closely with volunteers and community groups.

Mr Attwood, whose department is helping to fund the new campaign, said there was much to learn from Don’t Mess with Texas, which reduced litter by 72% and saved millions of dollars a year.

“It has been the most successful anti-litter campaign in American history,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.

“For upfront investment they have had very significant consequences, including a 72% fall in litter on highways.”

It currently costs around £40m a year to clean up rubbish strewn on Northern Ireland’s streets.

The DoE investment, which will run to six figures over the next three years, is intended to make a real difference.

“This is a serious financial investment towards a co-ordinated, high-profile anti-litter campaign,” Mr Attwood added.

“The quality of all our lives is damaged by litter.

“It is worthwhile, given the £40m cost of cleaning up, seeing how we can reduce that expenditure.

“On one hand it is enforcement, on the other it is an education campaign, the like of which we haven’t seen for a long time.

“We want to learn lessons from what happened in Texas and implement them here.

“Our credentials as a country are green and clean, but that is contradicted by the litter on the streets.

“So let’s have a country which is clean, green and litter free.”

Tidy NI chief executive Ian Humphreys said the investment could lead to huge rewards.

“It might seem like a painful investment now, but if we can come even close to what Texas achieved then it will be worth it,” he said.

“This is going to reach the majority of people and I am positive that this campaign, if fully supported by councils, can make a huge impact.

“It only took about five years for Texas to see a huge difference and to start making savings.

“They would not have kept investing in this for 27 years if it hadn’t worked.”

And Mr Humphreys added: “The proof is there, the example is there for us to follow, we just have to believe that we can do it.”

How one snappy slogan helped Lone Star state clean up its act

It's one of the best-known anti-litter campaigns — and one of the most imitated.

Now Northern Ireland is hoping to draw on the inspirational Don’t Mess With Texas campaign with a major anti-litter push of its own.

The Don’t Mess With Texas campaign is credited with reducing roadside litter blighting the state’s highways by 72% between 1986 and 1990.

When it was launched in 1985, the bill for clearing up litter from highways was some $20m (£12m) a year.

The state’s Department of Transportation identified the state’s worst offenders and came up with the Don’t Mess With Texas slogan. Tim McClure of GSD&M, which was asked to come up with a slogan for an anti-littering campaign, said it was targeting “bubbas in pickup trucks” who threw litter out of vehicle windows as well as ordinary Texans who believed littering a “God-given right”.

The phrase Don’t Mess With Texas was widely shown on road signs on major highways, television, radio and in print advertisements. It targeted 18-30-year-old men, who were statistically shown to be the most likely to litter.

The campaign kicked off with a series of bumper stickers but went on to use iconic Texas celebrities to help spread the message, including Willie Nelson, George Foreman, Matthew McConaughey, Chuck Norris, Jennifer Love Hewitt, LeeAnn Rimes and Lance Armstrong.

The first TV ad featured singer Stevie Ray Vaughan at the 50th Annual Cotton Bowl Classic on January 1 1986, singing Eyes Of Texas with the line added at the end.

The most popular ad to date voted for by the Texas public was 1989’s Willie Nelson effort, in which he sang: “Mamas, tell all your babies Don’t Mess With Texas.”

The phrase has even appeared in an episode of The Simpsons, The Italian Bob, when Homer waves the US flag while yelling ‘Don’t Mess With Texas’ at the luggage arrival in an Italian airport.

The Department of Transportation has sent more than 20 cease and desist letters over unauthorised use of the trademarked phrase, but it has become a cultural phenomenon. It has been awarded a plaque on the Madison Avenue Walk of Fame and a place in the Advertising Hall of Fame.

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