Rewards for litter pickup milestones often encourage fraud so we recommend more thoughtful metrics. Unique recognition encourages participant creativity, deeper event engagement, and greater enjoyment. Similarly, “rewards” closely tied to the event purpose have much stronger effects on participation and engagement than unrelated rewards (money, paid time off, etc.).
For example -
Event purpose: make a natural public space easier to use
Reward ideas: water bottle, camping gear, state/national park pass, gift certificate to outdoor gear store.
Best Practices for Giving Participants' Rewards:
Only mention the possibility of rewards after the task is completed OR only mention rewards vaguely as a token of appreciation rather than as a reason for people to participate.
Using rewards as a motivation invites fraud and is actually demotivating for people who were already intrinsically motivated to complete the task.
Rewards are best used for non-creative tasks that only need to be performed once or twice; if you need ongoing behavior, rewards reduce performance quality and quantity.
Highlight what benefits come from the task.
Tell participants what is better because they picked up and recorded litter (safer for wildlife and kids, prettier park, cleaner neighborhood/less pollution, money for municipal cleanup can be diverted to more critical issues, litter data finds upstream issues, etc.).
Shows how important and meaningful their actions are with informative feedback; makes participants feel needed and more likely to join similar cleanups in the future.
Find ways to recognize different types of contributions.
Instead of just 5 top pickers, top 1 or 2 people across different categories would feel more fair to participants (top weight, top filled bags, top recruiter of other participants, etc.).
This reduces the benefit and attractiveness of litter data fraud and recognizes that litter count isn't the only helpful act in the event.
Be mindful about what you reward. If you're considering rewarding people who picked up the most litter pieces, also reward people who picked up the heaviest item. One is not better than the other. Reward them both equally.
Here are some other ideas beyond litter pieces and weight that help promote long-term engagement and education:
Most participant-recruited helpers
Best litter picking costume
Most sites cleaned by a single litter picker
Most quirky/interesting site cleaned
Most picturesque site cleaned
Best social-distancing technique by litter picking team
Most interesting litter item identified
Oldest litter identified
Most interesting encounter while litter picking
Most creative litter picking tools
Best multitasking while litter picking
Jogging, biking, babysitting, etc.
Best animal assist of litter picking