It’s that time of year – holiday parties, bountiful buffets, frantic shopping, dining out and ordering tons of stuff online. This rush of activity produces a seemingly unending amount of waste.
At Gigantic, we and our waste professional clients cringe with every stack of delivered boxes, every pile of discarded edible food and every stack of red solo cups in the bulging trash bag after a big party.
If only we could normalize zero waste behaviors at a time when excess is being celebrated and encouraged at every turn! Don’t give up! The holidays provide prime opportunities for reducing waste, often by not creating it in the first place. Now’s the time to pump up our zero waste messaging and help people think about ways to reduce waste during this stressful season.
Like this popular blog, we can normalize behaviors that make less-waste sense:
We can bring concepts forward to interrupt gluttonous behaviors and capture the attention of people who are emotionally on the fence about participating in excess. We can help with tips, encouragement and resources, with feel-good messaging that promotes a more calm, conscious and guilt-free low-waste lifestyle.
Who will benefit from these messages? Of the folks with whom you communicate, there are:
People who are already doing the “right” thing…this messaging will help to reinforce and confirm that they are doing the right thing.
People who feel uneasy and wish they knew how to do some things better. This group responds well to tips and encouragement to jump in and just try something different.
People who are not willing to change and connect the holidays with joyous excess. Low-waste messaging may not influence them this time around, but the seeds may be planted for future change as they see others adopting lower-waste ways.
We highly recommend using your social media channels, newsletters, editorials, advertising and other outlets to promote messaging around waste reduction during the holidays.
You will not be alone! Here are some great recent examples – including a few of ours – to inspire your messaging:
In 2021, Gigantic Idea Studio began producing short videos for the Clean Water Program Alameda County, featuring the popular mascots Fred the Frog and Izzy Egret. A study by the University of Delaware found that, “while mascots may be great at inspiring action through their cheers and high fives, the biggest impacts of mascots may come through displays of disappointment with a negative outcome”. With this in mind, we focused on messaging that showed the impact of pollution on Fred and Izzy.
A key strategy was to distribute the videos through paid promotion on platforms that were popular with younger audiences. At the time, TikTok was becoming a popular platform with Gen Z, so in addition to producing the short videos in the traditional horizontal format, we created vertical versions to allow an optimized experience on TikTok. Gigantic Idea Studio created a TikTok channel for the campaign, and also posted the videos on Instagram Reels.
The results were impressive. The vertical version of the Dog Poop video had a CPM of $2.36, compared to $7.12 for the horizontal version on YouTube. Although views are counted differently depending on the platform, the TikTok version of the video also received more views than on YouTube, despite having double the budget.
Gigantic Idea Studio also found success with organic content on Instagram Reels. Its first reel received 3,059 views, compared to the average of 26 views for its previous horizontal video posts. On Earth Day 2023, we posted another reel that received 1,318 views.
To date, Gigantic Idea Studio’s TikTok channel has received 1,720,973 views of 8 videos, through 14 campaigns, and 9,543 likes with 482 followers.
Gigantic Idea Studio’s success teaches a few important lessons about reaching younger audiences with short-form videos:
Use humor and creativity. Younger audiences are attracted to content that is entertaining and engaging.
Keep it short and sweet. Younger audiences have short attention spans, so aim for videos that are 30 seconds or less.
Use vertical video. Younger audiences are more likely to watch videos on their mobile devices, so make sure your videos are formatted vertically.
Promote your videos on the right platforms. TikTok is a great platform for reaching younger audiences, but other platforms like Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts are also gaining popularity.
If you’re looking to reach younger audiences with your marketing content, consider using short-form videos. Just be sure to keep the above tips in mind to create videos that are engaging and effective.
Reducing food waste and diverting it and other organic materials from landfill is key to reducing methane emissions in our state (and around the world). California’s SB 1383 establishes targets for reducing organic waste going to landfill and increasing edible food recovery, and public agencies across the state are scrambling to implement it. The law, including outreach for it, was a major focus at this year’s California Resource Recovery Association (CRRA) Conference. The Gigantic team’s presentation was designed to contribute to that discussion.
How much do Californians already know about food waste and its connection to climate change? What would motivate more residents to reduce food waste? Back in 2020, we conducted a brief statewide survey of Californians to ask a few questions about their understanding of greenhouse gas emissions, landfill and food waste. We re-ran the survey with some additional questions in 2023 to see if the implementation of SB 1383 was impacting residents’ understanding of food waste and its relation to the warming planet. In comparing the data from 2023 to that of 2020 we noted:
84% of respondents think that human-caused climate change is happening; this is up
4 percentage points from 2020.
The number of respondents who are very or extremely worried about climate change is stable at 50%. There is an increase of those who say they are more worried than they were a year ago: 46% vs 40% in 2020.
Only 33% of respondents understood that food scraps break down and release methane in landfill. This is down from 42% in 2020.
Despite the requirements of SB 1383 that every resident have access to organics composting service, only 47% of respondents confirmed that their food scraps are collected separately from garbage. 28% said that food scraps go in the garbage and 16% said they don’t have food scrap collection service. 8% did not know.
When asked to select the three best reasons for reducing food waste, “The right thing to do” was selected by 45% of respondents (down from 49% in 2020). “Fighting climate change” was selected by 32% of respondents.
The survey results demonstrate that many Californians understand that climate change is happening and they are worried about it, but do not yet understand the connection between food waste going to landfill and the climate crisis. We see this as a possible opportunity for future outreach: Many of the actions that fight climate change are quite a big “ask” for most people: “Buy a new electric car!” “Replace your water heater!” “Stop eating meat!” In contrast, cutting food waste is both simpler and has many practical benefits, such as saving money. Could outreach about cutting food waste to fight climate change be the daily action that makes people feel positive and hopeful about their actions and the future? This is a question we’d like to explore in future research.
For our government and non-profit partners in environmental behavior change, the good news is: we’re all in this together. When our messaging about recycling, waste reduction, energy conservation and respect for nature spreads far and wide, we all win! So it’s smart to help each other reach as many people as possible.
That’s where the partner power comes in by creating a network of like-minded organizations and a process for sharing partner messages across groups and platforms. It’s a very simple idea: compile your sharable messages into a few easily “cut and pasted” formats, such as newsletter article, Facebook or Instagram, then send the memo to a curated list of partner organizations that pick up and share the content on their channels.
It’s a Win-Win
Not only does the partner memo amplify the original sender’s message, it provides content for those of us struggling to come up with new things to say in our e-news, website or social media.
Make a list of the top organizations that share your values and communication topics. Some might be direct “competitors” such as a non-profit with a similar focus, or local governments, more general community organizations (that would be interested in helping their constituents, such as the public library. Reach out to these organizations and explain that you’d like to share content with them and invite them to share theirs with you. Set up your memo template and start sharing!
Top Tips for Effective Partner Memos
Send regularly, but not TOO often
Send your partner memos on a regular schedule if possible, say once a quarter. For time-sensitive messages, be sure to allow plenty of notice so that your content can be included at the right time for the recipient. In other words, don’t send your Christmas post to partners on December 23rd!
Make it easy!
The easier you make it, the more likely your content is to be shared. Include suggested headlines, pertinent links and, ALWAYS, images. Link to downloadable images that are properly sized for each channel. Be sure to specify if a photo credit as needed.
Share and share alike, right? Be open to sharing other organizations’ content in your channels. Showing the world that you are a good partner concerned about your community is an excellent strategy – and it’s the right thing to do.
Sometimes the simplest tools can be the most effective. A little effort to set up the partner memo system will pay off for months to come as your partner power and messaging takes flight.
Everywhere we look these days, we see both excitement and warnings around the Artificial Intelligence (AI) revolution. How will the use of artificial intelligence impact our outreach? Will it make it easy to select the best way to communicate about environmental behavior change? Will it put environmental behavior change agencies out of business? ARGH.
While we don’t think we’ll be out of a job any time soon, we all know that change is the only certainty and that we will all need to adapt to this new ‘entity’. Let’s look at the current state of AI with a couple of examples from Google’s Bard chatbot:
I asked Bard:
“Write a Facebook post that will incorporate food waste messaging and Livermore’s Binny.”
Sure, here is a Facebook post that incorporates food waste messaging and Livermore’s Binny:
Headline: Livermore’s Binny is Helping to Fight Food Waste
Did you know that one-third of all food produced for human consumption is wasted every year? That’s enough food to feed 2 billion people!
Food waste is a major environmental problem. It contributes to climate change, water pollution, and deforestation. It also wastes resources that could be used to feed people.
Livermore’s Binny is helping to fight food waste. They donate food to local food banks and soup kitchens. They also compost food scraps, which helps to reduce methane emissions.
If you’re looking for ways to reduce food waste, there are a few things you can do:
Plan your meals ahead of time so you don’t buy more food than you need.
Cook only what you need and save leftovers for later.
Donate food to local food banks or soup kitchens.
Compost food scraps.
By taking these steps, you can help to reduce food waste and make a difference in the world.
Call to action:
To learn more about how you can help fight food waste, visit Binny’s website or follow them on social media.
While the information is not totally incorrect, it seems as if Bard could not distinguish a Facebook post from a 185-word blog post. Despite having instant access to the entire Internet, Bard did not know that Binny is a mascot for Livermore Recycles, representing the Organics Cart; Binny himself does not “donate food to local food banks and soup kitchens.” While this post draft gives some ideas, it certainly requires human intervention.
I tried to push the AI to make decisions about which content to include in a short format, asking:
“Please write a tweet with the most important action an individual can take to combat the climate crisis.”
Bard’s response was very big-picture – for whatever reason, it did not focus on recycling or reducing individual carbon footprint, but on political action:
The most important action an individual can take to combat the climate crisis is to vote for climate-friendly candidates. Vote in every election, from local to national, and let your elected officials know that climate action is a top priority for you. #ClimateAction
So far, these responses are reasonable but not earth-shattering. Can AI provide the spark that really grabs attention? I tried to elicit some more creativity from Bard, asking:
“Please write a limerick about sorting waste at home.”
Bard responded with:
There was a young lady named Sue Who sorted her waste into two. She said, “I’m a bit green, But I’m doing my scene By recycling and composting too!”
Well, Bard, I think “doing my scene” is a bit weak, but this has a spark of life in it.
Finally, selfishly, I asked Bard, “When will AI replace the need for environmental outreach professionals?”
Part of Bard’s reply was appealing:
Here are some ways that AI can be used to support environmental outreach professionals:
Create engaging and informative content:AI can be used to generate content that is tailored to the needs of different audiences. For example, AI can be used to create infographics, videos, and articles that are both informative and engaging.
Track the effectiveness of outreach efforts:AI can be used to track the effectiveness of outreach efforts by measuring things like website traffic, social media engagement, and donations. This data can be used to improve future outreach efforts.
Connect with people who might not otherwise be reached:AI can be used to connect with people who might not otherwise be reached by environmental outreach efforts. For example, AI can be used to create chatbots that can answer questions about environmental issues or to create personalized email campaigns.
Some interesting promises here that we will explore further. But, we also like Bard’s conclusion:
Overall, AI is a powerful tool that can be used to support environmental outreach professionals. However, it is important to remember that AI cannot replace the human touch. Environmental outreach professionals are still essential for building relationships with people and communities, and for creating lasting change.
P.S. Bard does not yet create images, but I asked Fotor.com to “Create an image for a blog post about the use of AI for environmental behavior change campaigns.” The result (see above) is, well, interesting!
Big, complex environmental issues like climate change can easily overwhelm and lead to resignation and denial, instead of creative problem solving. While facts and how-to information have their place in environmental behavior change campaigns, so do art and fostering imagination beyond rational understanding. The Oakland Museum of California currently has an excellent exhibition about African American educator and activist Angela Davis, whose fight against mass incarceration and racism in the 60’s and 70’s made her an icon of Black liberation around the world. The show draws on a huge archive of newspaper clippings, posters, pamphlets, buttons and pop culture objects to tell Davis’s story in the political and cultural context of the time. What makes many of the visuals so powerful is how the call for social change and art are intertwined. Most striking are the political posters with bold, screen-printed images and collages.
In a recorded interview, looping on a large screen as part of the exhibit, Davis comments on the crucial role art plays in social change movements. She notes, “Art can produce knowledge that doesn’t occur with a simple political speech.” Such knowledge doesn’t arise from taking in facts alone and involves much more than the rational part of our brain. As with storytelling, art activates all parts of the human brain, enabling the level of empathy and engagement that can indeed motivate the change we need to see. This is especially important when there is urgency to act but the path forward isn’t clear. As Davis says, “Art enriches our ideas about change. It allows us to grasp what we cannot yet understand and enables us to imagine different modes of being.”
Vivid visual communication is a staple of effective behavior change campaigns.The upcoming Earth Month offers an opportunity to make art a campaign focus. How do you use the power of art in your outreach?
Recent years have seen a shift towards upstream solutions like source reduction and reuse, however, recycling still has a place in the transformation of materials like paper, glass, metal, and plastic into new and useful products. Neil Seldman of the Recycling Cornucopia Project and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, opened with an overview of an increase in domestic recycling markets and infrastructure since the National Sword Policy began to be enforced in 2018 in China. He writes, “Despite the fact that China had been warning for years that this cut-off was coming, U.S. recyclers were stunned and unprepared. But eventually, as prices for secondary materials fell in the tumult caused by the Chinese ban, private investment began re-building the U.S. manufacturing sector, and end-use capacity that had languished during the years that recycling collectors shipped a large percentage of materials to China rather than supplying domestic mills, returned to use.”
Municipalities that implement recycling often consider going with a single-stream system, and CCRRA hired MSW Consultants to see if it would be more cost effective to centralize recycling. They found that with the current weekly collection and 90% participation, the capital costs – a new MRF and truck fleet along with future costs of an education campaign – did not justify a system change. In this case, source separation of glass, cardboard, mixed paper, recyclable plastics and metals at the curb was more effective for residents and collectors.
Centre County, Pennsylvania is a good example of how grassroots recycling efforts in prior decades turned into a viable financial model. The decision to invest in labor over capital proved fruitful in the development of more localized recycling economies, which are less vulnerable to the whims of international global markets and commodity prices.
Recycling is often dismissed as big industries continue producing plastic and waste by design, which invariably ends up being burned in incinerators or buried in landfills. The Second Recycling Revolution is driven by grassroots efforts to build local community power, to redesign a more circular economy.
Regular people are finding big and small solutions to municipal solid waste problems. Gary ended with a question for the audience, “How much waste are you for?,” and the audience responded, “Zero!”
Gigantic Idea Studio teamed up with Sunnyvale, California with the challenge to refresh their “FoodCycle” food scrap collection program outreach and improve participation rates. The question was, how?
After surveying residents, we found that self-reported participation was actually fairly high at 63%, but cart audits showed a lower citywide participation rate of 57% and weekly participation of 45%.
The City wanted more program collateral, how-to videos and a presentation to help them communicate about the program, but also wanted to explore behavior-change tactics in a pilot program. Our team proposed a communications campaign as a baseline strategy, that would be supplemented with cart tagging in two pilot areas. The pilot would determine whether or not cart tagging improved participation more than advertisements, articles and videos. Together, we set a goal to raise weekly participation by 5%.
The two pilot areas were given two different messaging strategies:Social Norming and Benefit messaging vs. Addressing Barriers messaging. The social norming tag showed residents and their quotes about why they FoodCycled—and then listed the benefits of participation, such as reducing waste and fighting climate change. It also clearly stated that 63% of residents participate, a clear majority of support and enthusiasm. The second group received messaging related to overcoming barriers to participation, such as tips to avoid mess, smells and pests, and alternative collection containers for smaller kitchens or those concerned with aesthetics.
Although both strategies are part of the popular “Community-Based Social Marketing” practices, the cart audits showed that the “Barriers” messaging worked better in Sunnyvale. The households that received a cart tag with tips saw an increase of 9% (from 44% to 53%) in weekly participation and 7% in overall participation, when compared to the baseline.
Both types of messages were included in the communications campaign, but the pilot project shows that cart tagging adds effectiveness that can be measured. This is likely related to the personal and contextual message delivery method—the cart—which is related to the behavior change we are asking for.
Many cities will be conducting cart audits as part of SB 1383’s statewide requirements. Adding friendly, yet effective messaging designed to increase participation in organics programs is a good way to maximize the investment of labor required to do these audits. This messaging can be combined with contamination feedback and included on the back side of any cart tag.
We have experience designing these tags and providing guidance on how to determine messaging that resonates in your community. We’d love to hear from you!
We know it’s best to base outreach on data that we get from research. Formal research can be costly, but actionable data is all around us – and it can help make public outreach more effective.
For the 2022 California Resource Recovery Association (CRRA) Conference, Gigantic participated in a session about the use of surveys and spot checks to guide outreach. Our presentation gave examples from two of Gigantic’s clients: Cities of Milpitas and Livermore.
Among the suggestions:
Integrating some research into your outreach plan is better than none. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good: include lid flips and surveys into your budgets as feasible. There’s also data that does not need a specific budget because:
Outreach data is all around us. Your agency may not be able to afford a statistically rigorous survey, but quantitative data from hauler reports or lid flipping can be useful guides to what is working and what challenges arise. Qualitative data (individual questions or reactions that represent the concerns of a larger audience) can be gathered from phone help lines, comments at public meetings or from social media posts. Website statistics show us which content is or is not being accessed, what users are searching for and how/when they accessed the site; this is all guiding data for outreach.
Use data to react in real time. Are you getting a lot of questions on your social channel about plastic bags? Are lid flips showing an increase in a particular item of contamination? Respond to these questions with blog or social posts, or additional newsletter content, as promptly as possible.
Household Hazardous Waste: what a term! It’s a mouthful: three words that don’t really clarify what it encompasses. Add to that, city, hauler and marketing professionals like to shorten the term to HHW – which sounds even more mysterious. The EPA defines Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) as “leftover household products that can catch fire, react, or explode under certain circumstances, or that are corrosive or toxic.” Common HHW items include fluorescent bulbs, batteries, gasoline, household chemicals, pesticides, paints, antifreeze and asbestos…a real hodgpodge of toxic stuff.
At Gigantic, when tackling an HHW project, we start out thinking about our audience’s awareness of the problem. The problem with HHW is that it encompasses things as seemingly harmless as half-empty hair spray to those more easily perceived as dangerous, such as pesticides. When describing the hazards, we like the wording “toxic to you and/or the environment” to encompass all the potential negative outcomes.
Understanding HHW: Does It Matter?
When doing outreach, it’s important to describe the issue or item in question before you tell people what to do about it and give them a reason to dispose carefully. However, when considering HHW, we wonder, “do people really need to know the term?” Not necessarily. Communicating how HHW items should be handled can work either way:
Explain the term and help people understand which items are considered HHW, then let them know how to safely dispose of it.
Encourage use of a general “what goes where” app like StopWaste’s re:source tool that includes HHW items, without requiring the user to identify them as such. (IMAGE w link https://resource.stopwaste.org
Connect HHW Items with Real World Examples
It can also be helpful to put HHW disposal in context. When might residents be most likely to think about getting rid of HHW? Maybe before putting their house up for sale, when contemplating a spring cleaning or when tackling DIY house projects? Messaging that connects an activity with HHW items is more likely to be memorable.
Go Beyond the Carts
It could help if HHW items were called out more prominently in recycling guides as a category that needs different treatment, such as a “Not Accepted Curbside” or “Special Items” category.
Go for Impact
It also makes sense to focus on the HHW items that are most problematic in your area. Rather than implying the need to grasp a long list of items, focus on raising awareness about one item at a time, choosing those that would be most impactful if they were disposed of properly.
Thinking through the challenges and solutions of communicating about HHW before starting campaign design will save time and effort, while keeping people and nature safer.