Leo Burnett Sri Lanka Creates ‘Merit Bins’ for the Mountain of Buddha to Clean up Garbage

Case Study: Sri Pada – or the mountain of Buddha – is uniquely sacred to a deeply spiritual Buddhist majority in Sri Lanka. However, this stirring ceremony of nearly 500,000 pilgrims who visit the holy site every day, during the season, brings with it the unholiest of sights – Garbage. The Rathnapura Provincial Council, the body responsible for maintaining the sacred site, wanted to find a solution that is sustainable and effective.

The creative idea
Turning garbage disposal into a meritorious act in the pilgrim’s journey towards enlightenment.

The proposed idea had to respect the importance of the site, understand the deeper cultural nuances and take into account the psychological framework of the pilgrims. Since a cross segment of devotees visit the mountain, young and old, Leo Burnett Sri Lanka needed a solution that could be easily adapted and accepted. An organic conversion, from shifting a daily practice into one of spiritual significance, was ideal and doable


Cultural Context
The Donation Bins are entirely rooted in a deep understanding of Sri Lankan culture. The bins were inspired by traditional temple tills, art and parables. Even more fundamentally, the creation of the bin is informed by the Sri Lankan desire to earn spiritual merits in order to be assured of a more favorable rebirth.

The Execution
Each stride of the demanding 25,000 steps is accompanied by religious chants, seeking ‘good karma’ or merits from the divine journey. We researched and re-wrote these traditional chants to champion the idea of waste disposal as a way of collecting merits. Temple Wardens and Pilgrims carried these chants and reminders to millions of journeymen. Inspired by the Buddhist practice of collecting merits by making monetary offerings to temple tills, we also created special bins to complement the message. Instead of donating money however, pilgrims could now donate garbage. These Donation Bins were placed all along the pilgrims’ route.

The Outcome
Overall, three and a half times more waste was collected from all garbage bins, while on average each of our special bins collected twice as much. Garbage was no longer garbage; it was an opportunity to amass merits by doing good, under the light of Lord Buddha.



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Creative Work

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