THE TALKING BIN INVASION

The Talking Bin Invasion
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THE TALKING BIN INVASION



Written by Tshepo Mokoena
Photos and illustrations by Tshepo Mokoena
13 Thursday 13th October 2011
Britain's pretty dirty. Yeah, I said it. I mean, in terms of the litter that hits city streets all over this little island, the general consensus seems to be "I'll just drop it right here on the floor, cos that guy from the council will come over soon with his grabby mini-forklift thing and sort it out for me". And so we find ourselves in the midst of a torrent of the usual horrifying stats, such as the fact that 30 million tonnes of rubbish get dropped by people on the streets in a year and cost the country about £858 million to pick up. So when the England-specific campaign Love Where You Live approached the fun-loving and rather unconventional company Sing London to find a solution of their own, it was bound to be on the silly side. And yes, talking bins are a little silly. But there we are. 
 
I set off on a whirlwind day shadowing Steph Singer, producer of Sing London's project and general ray of sunshine. I mean, she's a person but if any person could become a ray of sunshine it would probably be her. I wanted to uncover not only the motivations behind the talking bins but look at her predictions on their effectiveness, and overall impact. The bins hit London's streets last week (on October 13th) so we were there to watch them get set up.
 
Right Steph, first of all we haven't really seen any Sing London branding on these bins. What's the deal with that?
 
Steph: Well, it's not really about us (laughing)! We've kept the focus on Love Where You Live and Keep Britain Tidy and we haven't wanted to focus on us at all. What we want to focus on is the fact that we HATE litter; Colette, the creative director really hates litter, and this isn't so much about brand awareness as a bugbear I guess.
 
Ha, well we know from your past projects on the Search Party, PingPong and impromptu group singing in cities that your specialty is getting people to interact with each other and their urban environments in unconventional ways. What is it about bins that talk that still fits that Sing London 'trademark'?
 
[She laughs uproariously] I think it comes down to two things. 1) Everything we do is aimed at being part of a wider agenda, like this project. And 2) part of this project embeds itself in Sing's ethos anyway. We're trying to get people to have fun in the city, which is rarer than you'd think (laughs), and bringing people together while making something beneficial for society.
 
So when did the brief arrive on your laps and what made you pick it?
 
It was sent over to us earlier in the summer, at just about the time that we were working on Search Party. We found out that we'd got the bid to do the bins when we were busy planning the treasure hunt, so obviously didn't have that much time to actually think about it. We wanted to do it because Colette is really passionate about the case for minimising litter, as I said, and also because it gave us the opportunity to get involved in something to truly better society. Not that we thought talking bins would solve the entire issue, or transform every single person's thinking about litter, don't get me wrong here. Still, we're trying to get people thinking about how they litter at least, and push the momentum on the Love Where You Live side of things.
 
So with talking bins, how much did you and the others at Sing look into other bins that have been programmed to talk in other parts of the world?
 
Good question! In fact the project was modelled on a Swedish experiment that is on YouTube and is really good. It's different because the sound picked makes it sound like the litter's journey is never-ending.
 
Like a bottomless pit?
 
Exactly, yes. So a lot of people stopped with that one, but what we took from it was that the song was maybe too long and doesn't necessarily say what we wanted it to say. We learned a lot from it because we were keen to make it more of a rewarding sound than a curiousity. 
 
So we assume you had to go through and track down the celebrity voices in the bins. How awkward was that, and which are now your favourites?
Britain's pretty dirty. Yeah, I said it. I mean, in terms of the litter that hits city streets all over this little island, the general consensus seems to be "I'll just drop it right here on the floor, cos that guy from the council will come over soon with his grabby mini-forklift thing and sort it out for me". And so we find ourselves in the midst of a torrent of the usual horrifying stats, such as the fact that 30 million tonnes of rubbish get dropped by people on the streets in a year and cost the country about £858 million to pick up. So when the England-specific campaign Love Where You Live approached the fun-loving and rather unconventional company Sing London to find a solution of their own, it was bound to be on the silly side. And yes, talking bins are a little silly. But there we are. 
 
The prototype chatty bin, in Victoria Embankment Gardens. We can only assume these people were set up
 
I set off on a whirlwind day shadowing Steph Singer, producer of Sing London's project and general ray of sunshine. (I mean, she's a person but if any person could become a ray of sunshine it would probably be her). I wanted to uncover not only the motivations behind the talking bins but look at her predictions on their effectiveness, and overall impact. The bins hit London's streets last week (on October 13th) so we were there to watch them get set up.
 
Steph's pride, after labelling one of Westminster's bins with the new stickers
 
Right Steph, first of all we haven't really seen any Sing London branding on these bins. What's the deal with that?
 
Well, it's not really about us [laughing]! We've kept the spotlight on Love Where You Live and Keep Britain Tidy and haven't wanted to focus on ourselves at all. What we want to centre on is the fact that we hate litter; Colette, the creative director really hates litter, and this isn't so much about brand awareness as a bugbear I guess.
 
Well we know from your past projects on the Search Party, PingPong and impromptu group singing in cities that your specialty is getting people to interact with each other and their urban environments in unconventional ways. What is it about bins that talk that still fits that Sing London 'trademark'?
 
[She laughs uproariously] I think it comes down to two things. 1) Everything we do is aimed at being part of a wider agenda, like this project. And 2) part of this project embeds itself in Sing's ethos anyway. We're trying to get people to have fun in the city, which is rarer than you'd think [laughs], and bringing people together while making something beneficial for society.
 
Steph labelling bins in a weird bin yard place in Pimlico
 
So when did the brief arrive on your laps and what made you pick it?
 
It was sent over to us earlier in the summer, at just about the time that we were working on Search Party. We found out that we'd got the bid to do the bins when we were busy planning the treasure hunt, so obviously didn't have that much time to actually think about it. We wanted to do it because Colette is really passionate about the case for minimising litter, as I said, and also because it gave us the opportunity to get involved in something to truly better society.
 
Not that we thought talking bins would solve the entire issue, or transform every single person's thinking about litter, don't get me wrong here. Still, we're trying to get people thinking about how they litter at least, and push the momentum on the Love Where You Live side of things.
 
So with talking bins, how much did you and the others at Sing look into other bins that have been programmed to talk in other parts of the world?
 
Good question! In fact the project was modelled on a Swedish experiment that is on YouTube and is really good. It's different because the sound picked makes it sound like the litter's journey is never-ending.
 
Prototype Bin
The prototype talking bin, from the video above
 
Like a bottomless pit?
 
Exactly, yes. So a lot of people stopped with that one, but what we took from it was that the song was maybe too long and doesn't necessarily say what we wanted it to say. We learned a lot from it because we were keen to make it more of a rewarding sound than a curiousity. 
 
So we assume you had to go through and track down the celebrity voices in the bins. How awkward was that, and which are now your favourites?
 
[laughs] Well, there was just a whole lot of asking. I had to go through quite a few agents, who usually gave a pretty clear indication of how things would go: if the agent definitively said no, that was that. I mean, some celebrities just didn't want to align their image with having their voice come from a bin!

Chasing up people who were known to be bigger advocates for climate change helped too.

You didn't just track people down, door to door?

No [laughing]. Although now that you suggest it... But seriously, my favourites had to be Amanda Holden, Geoff Lloyd and Kenny Logan. Oh, and Phil Tufnell was great too.

Sing London's Creative Director Colette Hiller (R), prepping for an interview with Brazilian TV

 

We continued our wild journey through London as Steph attached stickers to bins and Colette met with the Brazilian press. Though the bins aren't attempting to completely revolutionise litter habits, it seems they're trying to make city cleanliness fun. That's worth something, right?

 

Check out the Love Where You Live site for more info on where to find your local chatty bin, and the Love Where You Live Day of Action today (Monday 17th October).

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