It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s gotta do it

Fed up with the littering situation in Copenhagen, resident Sandra Høj took matters into her own hands. City Hall, though, frowned on her display of active citizenship

May 24th, 2012 2:52 pm| by admin

You know that old saying: “If you want something done, you have to do it yourself”? A Copenhagen blogger, Sandra Høj, recently reached that conclusion, and decided to take a stand and act on a problem that concerns all Copenhagen residents: litter.

Her determination helped her come up with an innovative plan for the city that she is proud to call home. The Copenhagen Post caught up with Høj to discuss the story that is causing quite a buzz internationally.
Høj’s litter-minimising project began out of frustration with the “paper cup situation” around the lakes and on Dronning Louise’s Bridge. Høj suspected most passers-by had good intentions to bin their cups, but failed to do so because the bins were overflowing.

“People would carry their cups past several overloaded trashcans before finally giving up and just dumping them. And from there, they blow in the lakes. So annoying,” she said.

Høj decided to take action by constructing her own solution to the problem – a cardboard tube designed to hold only cups, minus the lids.

“Stacking the cups just seemed like the most logical thing in the world, and the tube was the obvious solution,” she said.

Engaged in a somewhat ambitious project, Høj has documented the entire process on her Classic Copenhagen blog.

“I made two tubes for the bridge and inspected the progress daily,” she explained. “I was really curious to see if people would get the concept and play along and to see if the tubes would be vandalised, but there was none of that. People got it right away.”

On her blog, Høj follows the first few days after she installed the ‘test-tubes’ on the bridge. The pictures clearly show that Copenhageners are more than capable of taking a hint. Below is the progress in Høj’s own words:

As Høj points out in her blog, you can't reach everyone. Nevertheless, the test tubes made an obvious difference“Day 1: No vandalism. No cups on the ground. A few cups in one tube.
 Day 2: No vandalism. No cups on the ground. A few more cups in both tubes.
 Day 3: No vandalism. No cups on the ground. Both tubes filling up.
 Day 4: No vandalism. No cups on the ground. Both tubes almost full.
 Day 5: No vandalism. No cups on the ground. Both tubes emptied, yay! This means the City got it too?
 Day 6: Removed by the City of Copenhagen. I guess the answer to my previous question would be ‘no’, then?”

Høj’s efforts were cut short on day six of the experiment, when the tubes were suddenly removed, despite the seemingly positive effect they had on the littering situation.

“The tubes were made of painted cardboard, and I was keeping an anxious eye on the weather forecast, so I could hurry up and cover them in case of a shower,” she explained. “My best guess is that the city hosed them down and turned them into a pulp in the cleaning process.”

But Høj is not about to give up. She has contacted the City of Copenhagen several times and has been recently approached by the Center for Renhold, which is part of the city’s Technical and Environmental Department responsible for the daily cleaning of the city’s public areas. Høj said the department has shown interest in her project.

“When I travel, I find myself taking pictures and making notes on how other big cities deal with these problems. Compared to other places, Copenhagen has it bad, and it pains me. I feel very protective about my city,” she said.

Høj has high hopes for her beloved city of Copenhagen. She told us that she believes that the littering problem is a combination of behaviour and logistics, and she is convinced that a solution is feasible.

“We use the outdoor areas of our city more, which is a good thing, but the small and pigeon-holed trashcans are too few and too far apart and clearly not up-to-date,” she said. “Dispatching more cleaning crews to pick up after people is not the stand-alone solution. It is expensive and undignified. We can do better than that. Yes, people’s mindsets could clearly do with an adjustment, but giving them the option to do the right thing is as much a part of the solution.”

The impact of Høj’s test-tube experiment remains to be seen, but judging by the followers of her blog, she certainly has popular support. A good Samaritan is difficult to find these days, but it seems Copenhagen has one in Sandra Høj.

Read Høj’s blog at

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