Talking rubbish in Moss Side

Researching with residents to understand the urban rubbish crisis from the ground up; highlighting the structural causes to challenge a simplistic behaviour change approach.

This project was aneighbourhood-level study of waste management problems (including littering, fly-tipping, and recycling dysfunction) in Moss Side, which is a deprived inner city ward in Manchester. The purpose was to gain insights into how local residents perceive the rubbish problem as well as the potential impacts of the university student population (and the private landlords who house them) on the quality of the local environment. 

Rubbish overflowing a bin

The project is unique because looks at the urban rubbish problem from a resident perspective. It provides evidence of the impacts that this problem has on people’s daily lives, as well as of the actions they have taken to mitigate them. It also considers the extent to which interventions by the universities, and Council, waste authorities and contractors have been effective and what more can be done. 

The project ran from May to November 2017 and was co-produced with members of an award-winning residents’ community action group called ‘Upping It’.  It was funded by an eco-innovation voucher from the Higher Education Investment Fund.

Our aims

The central aim of Talking Rubbish in Moss Side was to contribute, in a constructive way, to the ongoing efforts of stakeholder institutions, such as Manchester City Council, Biffa and the universities, to understand and mitigate socio-environmental problems, specifically in residential areas of South Manchester.  

The aims of the pilot project were twofold:

First, it aimed to collect primary data that enables improved understanding of:

  • the reasons for litter/rubbish in streets and alleyways  and why more waste is not recycled;
  • how people living in the local area, and the relevant organisations and professionals who work with/for them, understand the litter problem.

Second, it aimed to establish a knowledge production and exchange partnership between a university researcher and a community group in order to:

  • build on existing local knowledge of ‘what works’ in reducing the litter problem,
  • inspire interest/action among sections of the community (including students),
  • promote greater accountability among relevant stakeholders (including MCC, Biffa, The University of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University). 

Data collection involved 55 questionnaires with randomly selected residents in a five-street transect of Moss Side (the Edwardian terraced neighbourhood south of Whitworth Park); three  focussed discussions with residents; interviews with 11 key informant professionals (from the council, Biffa, the universities and Manchester Student Homes) and field observation.  

Read the full report, with policy recommendations.


As a piece of co-produced research, the project has made a difference to the members of the activist group whose work in the community will be informed by both the findings and the collaborative process.  Jay Din of Upping It said:

‘As the joint founder and active participant in Upping It, I believe that the doorstep interviews and focus groups undertaken as part of the research project have provided us with some remarkable findings. They still require more research and assessment, but it is my view that the ‘Talking Rubbish in Moss Side’ research breaks new ground in the way partner institutions have engaged with our communities and it has added greatly to our knowledge base.  I have no doubt that this will help inform our projects, strategies and development programmes for many years to come.’

This project has been featured in The ConversationCityMetric  and The Guardian  - in the Environment section and the Opinion section.


From January 2018, the collaboration between Sherilyn MacGregor and Upping It continued in the form of the co-development and joint organisation of an event and exhibition at The Manchester Museum. Over 40 local residents, researchers, organisations, and social enterprises contributed to the event.

A Rubbish Night at the Museum

19 April 2018 at the Manchester Museum

The event was co-developed and jointly coordinated by Simon Pardoe from "Upping It", an award-winning community organisation in Moss Side, Sherilyn MacGregor from the Sustainable Consumption Institute, and the community engagement team from the Manchester Museum. Over 40 local residents, researchers (including several from the SCI), community organisations, and social enterprises contributed to the event.

It was inspired by “Talking Rubbish in Moss Side” a research project conducted last summer, led by Sherilyn MacGregor (funded by an HEIF eco-innovation voucher), which found not only that rubbish in the streets and alleys reduces quality of life and hurts relationships between neighbours, but also that it is a complex problem that needs better solutions than simply educating residents to change their behaviour.

By discussing these findings and giving voice to residents’ perspectives, A Rubbish Night at the Museum was intended to inspire all stakeholders –  residents, local councils,  waste authorities, businesses, waste contractors, landlords and universities - to work together to build the intellectual and practical capacity to deal more effectively with rubbish.

There were over 90 displays of photographs, art work, policy critiques, and research projects, along with readings, hands-on activities, and two panel discussions on the problem, solutions, and how to build an agenda for action. Catering was provided by Real Junk Food Manchester.

Simon Pardoe said: ‘The BBC’s Blue Planet series got people talking about plastic pollution in the ocean; we wanted this event to get people talking about rubbish in the streets, parks and alleys of Greater Manchester. It’s a problem with many causes that needs some new thinking from the bottom up to get beyond the blame and ‘behaviour change’ that we tend to hear from the top-down. We’re giving voice to people who live surrounded by mess, and want to see action coming from all levels.’

The event was funded by the Sustainable Consumption Institute and the ‘Engaging Our Communities Fund’ (UoM Office of Social Responsibility).