Garden Pots and Mulch Bags, OH MY!

On a recent chilly early Monday morning in March, Stef and I were conducting spot checks* for our client, Livermore Recycles. In a single lid-flipping morning, we walk several miles and record data on approximately 200 residential trash/recycling/composting set-outs. I flip the lid on each cart and call out what I see while Stef records the data on her clipboard.

On this morning, a pattern was beginning to emerge. From the compost cart we could tell folks were definitely working on their gardens and yards this time of year AND some of them were confused about where their nursery pots and mulch bags should end up. Unfortunately, film plastics such as mulch bags and those black flimsy pots belong in the trash – we found several set-outs where these items were contaminating the organics cart and the recycling cart.

flower pots wrongly placed in recycling and organics carts

As a result of seeing this in the field on Monday, and verifying with the team that this continued throughout the week, we were able to create a social media post prior to the next weekend to let Livermore residents know:

FB post about trashing mulch bags and pots

We were quite pleased when we saw the comments and likes come in:

positive comments on the post

I’d call that a Gigantic success and a good example of how we can act upon what we see is needed in a short amount of time.

*Gigantic Idea Studio, has been flipping lids in Livermore twice a year (Spring and Fall since 2017. This involves early morning starts to stay ahead of the Livermore Sanitation trucks as we flip lids on approximately 1,000 setouts during a single week. The data is collected, reviewed and reported back to the client, along with recommendations for messaging specific to Livermore residents’ needs.

Rainwater: Collecting Our Most Precious Resource

water scene at Magic Johnson Park
Magic Johnson Recreation Area, Los Angeles, CA

It’s mid-December, and we’re on our second “big rain event” of 2021-22 rainy season in the Bay Area. It’s been four weeks since the last storm, and for the past three years, total rainfall is way below average. This is a predicted new pattern: less frequent rain, bigger storms, persistent drought cycles. And, as the storms get bigger and rain falls in a shorter period of time, our storm drain systems can get overwhelmed and much of the precious water can wash away into the bay and ocean.

This past year, our team has worked with stormwater professionals in California to research the best ways to promote stormwater management techniques—that already exist—to capture and use rain water from these storms. A great example of what’s possible is Magic Johnson Recreation Area in Los Angeles.

This beautiful park uses built-in systems that mimic nature, and sustain the park while preventing pollution, capturing water, and providing residents with a beautiful open space.

Stormwater education has been almost exclusively focused on the pollution that stormwater carries to our waterways. The good news is that “capture and use” projects also clean the water, so it can be used on site for irrigation. This leaves more of our water supply for humans and wildlife.

Green stormwater infrastructure is an elegant solution that results in many benefits to communities: green space, more water supply, less dependance on importing water. It seems like a win-win, but is lacking in public awareness, funding, and integration with statewide water supply planning.

It will take ongoing effort to rebrand stormwater as a resource, and not as a source of pollution. Our team will do our best to help the industry simplify technical terms and jargon to resonate with voters and elected officials who need to support projects in their communities, and to state officials who must fund them.

Gigantic Growth! Welcome to our new Associates!

Our team has gotten even more Gigantic! We are pleased to announce the addition of Myer Venzon and Dennis Uyat to our team of Associates.

Myer is a marketing professional with skills and experience in strategy, digital and social media, communications, branding and creative. At Gigantic, Myer contributes to a variety of aspects of our campaigns, with a particular focus on digital strategy. Previously, Myer worked in the green beauty industry, where he was able to grow his passion for marketing with ethical and sustainable products. He is environmentally conscious and does his part by recycling old jokes passed down from his dad.

Myer holds a B.S. in Marketing Management and an M.B.A. in Global Innovation from California State University, East Bay. 

 

Dennis has worked with us on a per project basis since 2019. Dennis is a passionate environmental communicator with a lot of hands-on experience in engaging community members in sustainable behaviors with a focus on zero waste. As a field rep, Dennis has helped set up recycling and composting systems, working with residents and businesses throughout the Bay Area. They have led multilingual recycling facility tours to international delegations, elementary school students and community groups. Dennis has also been a leader with Zero Waste Youth.

dennis head shotDennis holds a B.A. in Geography with a minor in Geospatial Information Science Technology from UC Berkeley and an A.A. in Recycling and Resource Management from Golden West College in Huntington Beach. They hold a certificates in Master Resource & Conservation and Master Compost & Solid Waste from the San Mateo County Office of Sustainability, and Zero Waste Community Associate by Zero Waste USA.

We are excited for our clients to work with both Myer and Dennis in the near future!

 

California’s SB 1383: Communicating about Food Recovery

Food recovery cuts waste and eases food insecurity.

California SB 1383 looms large on many of our clients’ minds—and on ours, as we help with the outreach portion of implementing the law locally. It’s an exciting prospect to see not only downstream measures like organics recycling mandated statewide but also upstream prevention, with the requirement to recover 20 percent of currently disposed food that’s edible to feed people. In this blog, we share some of our experience creating outreach tools for food recovery.

 

For local jurisdictions, this means not only figuring out the nuts and bolts of a functioning food recovery system, but also how to communicate to the affected parties. And the clock is ticking—by or before February 1, 2022, jurisdictions need to provide “outreach and education” to the first wave of affected commercial edible food generators as well as food recovery organizations and services.

The law may seem overwhelming, but fortunately a lot of the basic principles of good outreach are helpful here:

  1. Segment your audience(s)

    Consider your outreach and messaging to the different audiences as separate efforts. For example, the content, timing and channel of your outreach to the first wave of large food businesses (the state calls them “Tier 1” businesses) will differ from the second wave of smaller food businesses (called “Tier 2”), and both will differ from food recovery organizations.

    There will likely be only a small number of Tier 1 businesses for most counties, and they will require direct outreach—phone calls, web meetings, emails and visits. Your learnings from reaching out to Tier 1 can help streamline your efforts for Tier 2. Consider this a test run!

  2. Engage stakeholders

    Put yourself in the shoes of businesses — they are not steeped in “1383” like we are. Since this is new territory for all parties, consider having interviews or web meetings with businesses to help you develop your content and/or test your messaging to see if it is clear.

  3. Create outreach tools with clear and inclusive language.

    Craft messaging with an eighth-grade reading level in mind—which is what magazines and popular literature generally use.

    • Avoid regulatory terminology as much as possible and translate industry jargon into everyday terms anyone can understand.
    • For example, define the term “recovery.” This is a term unfamiliar to businesses. Our clients have found it preferable to using the term “donation.” If that’s the case for you, help your audience understand what “recovery” is and provide context. For example, say, “Separate edible food that would otherwise be composted or landfilled so it can be “recovered” to feed people.”
    • Be considerate and inclusive in your language e.g., say “food insecure” rather than “hungry.”
  1. Plan a “multi-touch” outreach effort.
    • Start with an official notification letter, mailed 6 months in advance. Keep your first “touch” simple, high level and focused on what’s coming. Rather than overwhelming them with details, get people’s attention first.
    • Create a web page or site to hold detailed information, including any legal documents such as a local ordinance or a model contract for edible food collection services.
    • Follow up your letter with direct outreach to affected businesses and food recovery organizations. Business outreach best practices have always relied on phone calls, emails, meetings and technical assistance to get results.
    • To build general awareness of 1383 in the business community, consider partners like chambers of commerce, business associations and environmental health departments, and ask to be included in announcements using their email lists and social media channels.

SB 1383 is a complex law and an exciting prospect with laudable goals. Using the basic rules of good outreach and remembering that businesses need direct outreach, you will be on your way to helping California put edible food to better use—all while fighting climate change!

Actors Sought for Recycling Video

Seeking Actors with Green Ambition

zwm logoZero Waste Marin is seeking one adult and one youth actor (aged 10-14) for two educational videos about waste and recycling in Marin County. Applicants must be available for two full days of shooting plus (Zoom) rehearsal time and wardrobe fitting. Actors must be able to travel to Novato for one day and San Rafael for the other. Video will be filmed (mostly) outside. 

For requirements, application procedure and compensation details:

Download Adult Actor Listing

Download Youth Actor Listing

 

Selling Nothing: Can Re-Homing Replace Discarding?

One of the challenges of zero waste outreach is how to convince people to NOT do something: buy new stuff.  Every day Americans are bombarded by thousands of slick, seductive ads encouraging the purchase of shiny new things that they may or may not need.  Helping the public to understand that “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is a list in priority of importance is tricky. How can reducing consumption be positioned as a positive?

While residents contemplate a New Year clean-out, our recent “Re-Solve to Re-Home” campaign for Zero Waste Marin introduced three alternative solutions to throwing away: “Swap. Donate. Share.” This messaging allowed us to position a positive, feel-good message to finding new homes for old items. We were able to take advantage of the recent uptick in “Buy Nothing” groups and other social media outlets for neighbor-to-neighbor ways to swap stuff.

We also experimented with the message that we all learned back in kindergarten: the feel-good advantage of sharing. We incorporated this into the Marin campaign with a pitch for cooperative ownership and neighborhood tool lending libraries.

Encouraging source reduction in a consumer society is an uphill battle but reframing “not buying” as doing something more social and fun or helpful is an important part of the effort!

 

Do As I Say: How Influencers Affect Behavior Change

In case you haven’t heard (!) – it’s election time. The season has been particularly intense this year. One approach for reaching voters and potential voters is through influencers – individuals who have built up a relationship with devoted fans who take cues from them. Observing how these powerful people affect behavior and outcomes can be very relevant for those of us working for environmental behavior change.

Our environmental campaigns often feature people who share likes, interests and world view and demonstrate the behavior we want to see. We may target occasional gardeners to get them to use less toxic pesticide, or campers to get them to use recyclable propane containers. These folks often take cues from someone they admire, who shares their interests and values – that is, from influencers.

This article in Behavioral Scientist notes that (in general) influencers don’t have universal influence; but, they have impact and authority with those in their group who identify with them.

The article suggests:

One way to strengthen a group identity is to help people understand the causal connections between that group and other important aspects that people use to define themselves. Peaceniks should be told how important belonging to the group is to fostering world peace; football fans need to associate their local club with achieving football glory.

A recent CNN article gave several examples of nonprofits working to encourage influencers to get young people to register to vote. Being a successful influencer means you identify with the population you are trying to reach, and you are comfortable with the channels (such as TikTok or Animal Crossing.)

Influencers don’t have to have millions of followers:

“We’ve found a way to build a program of influencers big and small; most have around 1,000 followers. Makeup bloggers, Greek life on campus, doggie Instagrams, drag queens and everyone in between have been really receptive to us sliding into their dm’s [direct messages] to save democracy. Our influencers are typically nonpolitical and have audiences who trust them, so when they are providing links to register or pledge to vote we see really great engagement levels,” said Heather Greven, communications director at NextGen America.

And then there are the questionable incentives that some influencers offer their millions of followers in return for an action. The YouTube star David Dobrik  got 120,000 people to register to vote…by offering a sweepstakes to win a Tesla! David got the idea from a fan, who posted the idea on TikTok. Ironically, as a Dreamer immigrant from Slovakia, Dobrik cannot vote himself. 

What does this have to do with those of us working for environmental behavior change? The advantage of engaging with influencers for waste reduction or energy savings are the same as those to encourage voting: find and work with influencers – not necessarily eco-people – who already have a relationship with a target group and help them (don’t tell them to) create behavior change. But maybe cool it with the extrinsic motivation – no promising folks an electric car if they give up single use bottles…!

 

Food Waste’s Impact on Climate: What Do Californians Know?

Reducing food waste and diverting it and other organic materials from landfill is key to reducing methane emissions in the state. California’s SB 1383 establishes targets that many businesses are  now working to meet. The implementation of SB 1383 was a major focus at this year’s California Resource Recovery Association (CRRA) Conference. As results come in, communicating about SB 1383 implementation and the efforts to reduce emissions will be important; but how much do Californians already know about food waste and its connection to climate change? We conducted a brief statewide survey of Californians to ask a few questions about their understanding of greenhouse gas emissions, landfill and food waste. Some responses were heartening, some were a bit depressing, but data emerged about how to communicate these concepts to different segments of the population.

See the slideshow:

To summarize, we noted:

  • Most Californians do acknowledge that climate change is happening, and that human activity is a major contributor.
  • However, 40% of respondents do not connect food waste with the climate.
  • Many people are unclear about what happens to food waste in a landfill.
  • Messaging about “doing the right thing” may resonate with several different audience segments.

As with any outreach effort, it’s best to understand how much your audience knows and how they feel about a particular issue before designing a campaign. This survey is just a first step in thinking about how to message about food waste reduction efforts and their relationship to the climate crisis.

If you would like a copy of the survey report, please email Gigantic

Going Plastic-Free in Pandemic Times: A Tough Job

Click above to see the phases of Dennis’ Plastic-Free July waste audit.

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Members of the Gigantic team have been observing Plastic-Free July for some years now (see past blogs). Besides being the right thing to do, it lets us understand how it feels to set and strive for challenging environmental behavior goals. This year, going plastic-free has been harder than ever, as COVID-19 concerns have made plastic more common, even in places like the farmers’ market, where it was rare before.

Team member Dennis Uyat decided to keep a record of the plastic he could not avoid during July, despite his best efforts, and reflect on how it could be avoided. 

To get a handle on this pile, Dennis sorted the waste into categories. Note the new arrivals this year: PPE masks and gloves, which are a huge, problematic addition to the waste stream.

Next, Dennis came up with a strategy for avoiding these items in the future. While “reduce use” is a common call-to-action, we also like the gentler, more encouraging “do your best.” No one likes to feel like a failure at waste reduction or anything else!

Plastic is a problematic material. Lightweight, flexible and adaptable, it is also, more importantly, a pervasive, harmful pollutant that has reached all corners of the planet and into our bodies.  Efforts like Plastic-Free July can help raise awareness of the ever-present plastic in our lives and help us be more mindful about avoiding it as much as possible.

2 images of plastic sorted  by type with alternatives to try to reduce it

Our Commitment to Environmental Justice

photo of george floyd mural and oakland protest

We support the historic efforts by the Black Lives Matter movement, seen here at a march in Oakland, May 2020.
Photos: Thomas Hawk, CC license (left); Daniel Arauz, CC license (right).

We are living in truly historic times, a potential turning point for race relations in this country. At Gigantic, we acknowledge our place of privilege, and are working to use the learnings from environmental behavior change to make our work and our company more effective change agents. Studies show that racial injustice and climate injustice are intimately intertwined — one cannot be addressed without addressing the other. We recognize that working for environmental justice must be at the center of our efforts moving forward.

Making solutions that work for all communities starts with listening to under-heard Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) voices now and from the past. We honor and learn from the work of those who have come before in striving for environmental justice, including Van Jones and DreamCorps/Green for All, the California Environmental Justice Alliance, the Greenlining Institute, Planting Justice and so many more activist and outreach organizers in the Bay Area, from the Black Panthers to Diablo Rising Tide.

We recognize that we have much more to learn, but also that actions must accompany words in pursuit of environmental justice.

As we know from our work, commitment, especially public commitment, is a key tool for behavior change. Therefore, we are making some initial public commitments:

  1. Gigantic will work with industry organizations (such as NCRA and CRRA) to create and support leadership pathways (e.g. scholarships and donations) for BIPOC interested in zero waste professions. Starting now, we are adopting a company policy to set a yearly goal for donated money and labor to support this important work. For 2020 we will donate up to $2,000 in financial support and $2,000 in Gigantic staff labor hours to fulfill this goal.
  2. We pledge to actively advocate for BIPOC-centered spaces in our industry at the discretion and leadership of BIPOC professionals/community members.
  3. We will continue to engage our clients in conversations around inclusive stakeholder engagement and true representations in all media, keeping environmental justice top of mind.
  4. Further, we recognize that this is a process that will require ongoing, sometimes difficult, work as a company to track and incorporate racial and environmental justice values in our practices, and we will consciously dedicate time to regularly evaluate our progress and set challenging goals.

Bolstered by heroic past examples and inspired by present actions and activists, we are hopeful these contributions, however small, will help progress toward a just and sustainable future.