Talking Local Recovery

Jason Hale

Author: Jason Hale,
Senior Consultant

GI Joe said knowing is half the battle. I’m not sure he’s got his percentages correct, but the idea has merit.

Look at top performing recycling programs across the country. Every one of them involves a number of well-run components that work together to create better recovery. Efficient collection, a broad suite of accepted materials, strong understanding of markets, possibly some supportive legislation, and always regular outreach and education with residents and businesses.

Done right, that outreach and education creates knowledge; it gives your audience the why and the how that in turn results in recovery of more material with fewer contaminants. Like the other components of a high performing program, this is not one-and-done. You have to engage in regular maintenance, along with adjustments based on new knowledge, updated technologies and emerging opportunities.

So what is the right way to handle outreach and education? How frequently? How expansive? How expensive? Where do you find the time? Where to you get the resources?

Years ago when I was a young recycling coordinator trying to figure out these things, I engaged in the shotgun approach. Newsletters, speeches, community recycling fairs, mailings, paid advertisements… I even constructed a giant aluminum can costume that I wore to public events (never, ever again!). After each push, I’d track material quantities coming in from the neighborhood, collection route or region to measure the effect. Invariably the results were positive. Invariably they ebbed within a few months and settled back near status quo.

What’s to be learned?

Lesson #1: Frequency and duration is critical. Fortunately, with social media and online ads, you can maintain a steady drip of information without ever finding yourself dressed up like a recyclable commodity in public. (Note: If you do wind up in that circumstance, recognize that round costumes can roll, or be rolled, so watch out for teenagers who might be looking to have a bit of fun.) Beyond social media, run a few targeted campaigns each year, and select your media based on your audience.

Lesson #2: You don’t have to create that much original content. Look to your industry peers for templates, language, graphics, presentations, games and other materials. Check with your state recycling office, or national efforts like Keep America Beautiful (KAB) or Curbside Value Partnership (CVP). For commodity-specific ads, look to manufacturers and trade associations; they likely have materials at the ready and would love to help. Really, if you reach out to these folks it might just make their day. Bonus: materials for digital media are often a snap to edit, update or customize, so whether it’s your old content or someone else’s you can hone it to fit your needs and give it a facelift with relative ease. Plus the ability to share via email blast, social media platforms, or webinars, creates multiple pathways to your audience.

Lesson #3: If you do create your own content, don’t be afraid to get creative or hire someone to be creative for you. You’re competing against the onslaught of other news, ads, sound bites and tidbits, so you need to do something to rise to the top of the pile. Consider jazzing things up by looking at what’s popular and following suit. I’m not sure how you might play off the Ice Bucket Challenge, but it’s worth some consideration.

Investing some time and money to effectively communicate to your community will produce a worthwhile return – increased participation, tonnage and quality. The key is to plan for that continuous feed to keep your program top of mind, and to use the appropriate methods and mediums where your audience tends to participate. It sure beats playing kick the can, when you’re the can.