Clevelanders who hate waste will have cause to celebrate even more the city’s Year of Zero Waste when Curbside Value Partnership (CVP), the nation’s premier social marketers on recycling, comes to town.
A CVP spokesperson spent some time discussing with GCBL what her non-profit organization funded by the American Chemistry Council, Alcoa, Coke and other mega corporate backers with skin in the game of community-wide recycling campaigns will bring to Cleveland where residential recycling has stagnated at 9.72 percent, according to a 2013 report from the Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District.
CVP shared lessons for Cleveland (and other Northeast Ohio communities) from the successful campaigns from Columbus, OH to Atlantic County, NJ and plenty of places between where CVP had to break through a lackadaisical attitude about recycling. When CVP was through with them, these communities owned campaigns that revealed important data on where to spend their efforts.
Here’s CVP's top-of-mind tips for Cleveland as it starts thinking about recycling ahead of their visit to kick off a massive Cleveland recycling campaign.
- Fall off the log: If it’s not really convenient, people won’t do it. “We found that while half of communities in U.S. offer curbside recycling, participation is not even at 50 percent. Sadly, some communities are in the low teens. Convenience is the number one barrier or motivator.”
Lesson: Curbside recycling is still the best investment a community can make. Get bins into every household. Make them single-stream for convenience (note: Cleveland will have bins for single-stream recycling in 95% of households by 2015).
- Giant foam finger: Visibility for your on-the-go recycling has to be so loud as to seem ridiculous. “When you put containers out at places like airports or universities, make it so clear that it’s humorous,” she said. “Like giant arrows pointing ‘this goes here.’”
Lesson: Modesty and subtlety have no place in the design of recycling bins. Make them big and loud.
- Be clear as day: Polls show the majority of people don’t recycle because they aren’t sure what can and cannot go into the bin or blue bag. “They’re worried about the planet, but they’re also worried about making things worse” by contaminating a load with non-recyclables.
Lesson: Make a printed guide with concise and clear information on what can be recycled and make sure it gets into everyone’s hands.
- Who do you target? Data suggests that 20% of the population are diligent recyclers. “Folks that are gung-ho and will drive 20 miles to a drop-off location. Communities too often only market to those folks.”
Lesson: Focus your campaign on the 60% who are “sometimes recyclers.” Some never do, but are still ripe to, she says. “The most common barrier is they don’t have information. Or they need the push. So really try to prompt that group.”
- Face time: Have very targeted messages and then deliver them in person. “The most effective as far as a tangible activity is reaching people in their actual homes,” she continues, “because that’s where the behavior takes place. We did a direct mail campaign and the data was phenomenal. They saw a 20-30% increase in recycling.”
Lesson: When you do direct mail or go door to door, make the ask very specific. “For example, tell them there are a bunch of new things that can be recycled, so learn this list really well. Or we’ve suggested that households can upsize their container if an 18-gallon bin isn’t enough for two weeks.
Looking ahead: When CVP comes to Cleveland, it will analyze what’s holding people back. They will conduct a survey to determine whether it is the lack of bins or information, or both.
Since Cleveland is introducing a single-stream curbside recycling program, the campaign might look more like similar campaigns in places with large disadvantaged populations.
Check out CVP’s web site for examples, like the campaign for Atlantic County, New Jersey that sports a large, shirtless man clenching a cigar in his mouth and clutching a recycling bin with the tag line, “He’s putting it out there. Are you?”
Whatever the final message and delivery system, it is undeniable that CVP will bring some fresh eyes and ears and legs to Cleveland’s recycling effort.