HHWhat? Outreach Challenges of Household Hazardous Waste

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:

  1. Explain the term and help people understand which items are considered HHW, then let them know how to safely dispose of it.
  2. 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

image of search in re:source

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.

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.

The Social Media Swamp: How to Deal with Anti-Environmental Comments

meme - what the otter sees
Dealing with the social swamp isn’t easy

As many of us know from running environmental campaigns on social media: online platforms bring out the best in some and the worst in others. It can be disheartening to learn that not everyone is as supportive of clean water, wildlife, or air quality as we are. What seems a no-brainer to us, (do you actually WANT pollution in your water?), is anathema to others.

For some of us who monitor these online conversations, (and I include myself here) it may be hard to read and manage negative comments that target our work or the things we are trying to protect. Fortunately, my unflappable colleague at Gigantic, Nancy Roberts, coached me through this aspect of our work in our recent campaign for Respect Wildlife. In this blog, I’ll share what I learned from her “Keep Calm and Carry On” approach to social media management. You can view the campaign here.

Nancy’s Top 3 Social Media Comment Tips

1. Don’t take comments personally. If monitoring comments becomes mentally taxing, take breaks or assign the task to someone else.

2. Understand that comments are data points.

3. Establish a comment policy: Include how you will deal with profanity, bullying, slurs, violent language, or other troublesome content, and create a threshold for when you will hide or delete a comment. If you are a government agency, you may need to adhere to free speech regulations and let comments stand, more so than nonprofits or private businesses, which can set their own policies.

For Facebook: Hide rather than delete comments. This will prevent conflict.
For Instagram: You can’t hide comments; delete only if absolutely necessary.
For Twitter: You cannot hide replies; if they are truly egregious you can report to Twitter.

Decide how/if you want to respond to comments. In most cases we recommend no response unless there is significant misinformation. Let other commenters step in to present an alternative viewpoint or challenge the naysayers. This is more authentic.

Lessons Learned from Our Recent Respect Wildlife Campaign:

As mentioned above, comments are rich sources of feedback, even the negative ones. Here are some takeaways on the campaign that we and the client gained through comment feedback:

  • Not everyone loves animals or cares if animals are hurt. (Especially seagulls!) Some people view humans at the top of food chain, and therefore it’s ok show dominance. While not the majority, this view is especially hard to deal with, but an important thing to remember. Appeals to protection, being a good person, etc. will not work for this type of individual.
  • Regulations, even those meant to protect vulnerable species, are viewed by a vocal minority as government control and overreach, and inspire especially negative comments.
  • Not everyone understands or supports a humorous approach. Many expressed enjoyment of the campaign’s exaggerated artwork style, but it inspired some very literal thinkers to call out the “falsehoods” shown in the memes. (We actually did know that otters don’t really see humans as swamp creatures!)
  • If feeding or approaching wildlife is “fun” for humans and pets, it’s considered harmless.

Good luck on your next social media campaign! I hope you connect with supporters and learn from the detractors.

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!

 

Selling Nothing: Outreach to Reduce Consumption

Survey questions asked about current consumption attitudes and habits.

We love working on all kinds of waste and sustainability issues with our clients, and we especially enjoy the challenge of moving people toward a more zero waste lifestyle. Our most recent presentation for the CRRA Conference (see slideshow below) looked at the challenge of “selling folks” on the behavior of buying less stuff. “Selling Nothing” introduced some ways of encouraging less consumption, such as by focusing on specific items, or reminding people of the positive feeling that comes from sharing or helping others, or by focusing on specific behaviors, for instance holiday gift-giving, to encourage buying less stuff.

We then presented results of a brief survey of Californians about their feelings around any recent changes in their consumption habits. Many of the questions were borrowed – well, reused — from a 2015 survey done in New Zealand about the connection between buying and people’s feeling of well-being.

A few findings from our July 2021 survey, which gathered 350 responses from Californians:

  • A majority of respondents (53%) confirm they are consciously reducing the amount of stuff they have bought in the last 3 months.
  • Unsurprisingly in this time of economic uncertainty and pandemic effects, over half of those who bought less did so because they had less money to spend or wanted to save more. These answers could give us some ideas about how to position non-consumption.
  • More than two-thirds of respondents agreed with statements about over-consumption’s negative impact on “future generations” and “the planet.” So seemingly awareness is not the issue in cutting consumption, it’s more a question of persuasion.
  • The final question of the survey was “Do you consider yourself an environmentalist?” — asked at the end so as not to prejudice responses to the other questions. 43% said yes, 34% said no, and 18% weren’t sure if they considered themselves environmentalists. The comments revealed some tensions: some considered being “green” too hard or that environmentalists are too radical, while a few were outright hostile to the label.

Key takeaways include:

  • “Selling” not buying in general is a tough challenge; try focusing on specific actions, items or situations in order to chip away at the social pressure to consume.
  • While we encourage source reduction to tackle the issues of waste and climate change, there are many reasons people may reduce consumption that could be included in a source reduction campaign. A primary driver is saving money.
  • A majority of respondents understand that rampant consumption is harmful to people and planet in the long run. BUT…
  • A majority also acknowledge that buying stuff makes them happy. So that clarifies the challenge for outreach campaigns that aim to reduce consumption – how can we offer a form of happiness to replace the happiness of buying?

Our research and efforts continue!

See the presentation:

 

When in Doubt: The Power of Subtraction

“When in doubt, take it out” is a rule I apply as often as possible when editing my own writing and that of others. By removing words or seeking simpler vocabulary or constructions, writing often becomes more clear, comprehensible and even beautiful.

Subtract book cover
The suitably simple cover design for Klotz’s Subtract.

A new book by Leidy Klotz, professor at the University of Virginia, takes the idea of ‘taking away’ to a whole new level.  Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less posits that humans are programmed to solve problems by adding stuff – elements, ideas or things – whereas subtracting them often clarifies and eases a problem. One of the book’s first examples is the removal of the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco. The project was opposed by a majority of citizens and politicians on a number of operational and economic grounds. Yet once the freeway, damaged in the Loma Prieta quake, was removed, the benefits became obvious – and huge. Klotz notes “The decade after removal saw a 50 percent increase in housing and a 15 percent increase in jobs around the waterfront. (p. 3)  A beautiful space was created, businesses thrived, people flocked and … traffic became less snarled.

Are there environmental problems that can be addressed by removing rather than adding? Klotz addresses this possibility and gives some examples. He suggests applying subtraction to the 3Rs: “When the current situation exceeds planetary boundaries, we need to subtract first. Remove must become the first R.” (p.210)

Klotz’s research is introduced in the video below. While subtraction is not the answer to every problem, it’s another tool we can use when approaching environmental outreach…and everyday life.

Gigantic is Hiring a Marketing and Public Outreach Associate!

We’re hiring! GIS logoThe Marketing and Public Outreach Associate (MPOA) will be in charge of developing strategies for delivering communications and advertising content to the intended audience. Our campaigns promote environmental programs and behaviors on topics such as wildlife protection, recycling, waste reduction, local ordinances, gardening workshops, composting, litter prevention, water pollution prevention and more.

The MPOA associate enjoys planning and executing both online and offline strategies to reach diverse audiences. From running social media and digital ads and sending e-blasts, to working with local and online influencers and community, businesses or business organizations, our goal is to create community-based outreach plans for our clients that deliver measurable engagement. Our campaigns range from hyper-local (cities, neighborhoods) to regional or California-wide.

Ideal candidate has experience in planning, managing and reporting online and off-line marketing, including:

  • Managing paid promotions in house: set up ads on Google/YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok; and expand reach to other platforms, as appropriate
  • Managing media buys with vendors
  • Implementing E-blasts, e-mail campaigns
  • Placing and managing streaming audio or video ads
  • Staying current with best practices of social media and digital advertising, and updating the Gigantic team
  • Familiarity with and ability to negotiate, purchase and place ads for print, outdoor, point-of-sale and other offline promotions

Additional experience or interest in one or more of the following is also highly desired:

  • Setting up/managing webinars or online workshops
  • Planning and posting social media content
  • Creating social media/media content
  • Copywriting

Additional qualifications:

  • Great communication and presentation skills are a must: the Associate will communicate and present media plans and campaign results to committees, clients and our internal team.
  • Multi-cultural media experience and/or bilingual in another language is a big plus.
  • Ability and interest in further training and skill-building is also a must. We are small firm and ideal candidates like the flexibility of doing more than one type of task/role within our tight-knit and supportive team. We are willing to provide training for the right candidate to attain optimal job performance

We offer:

  • Competitive compensation based on candidate’s experience, portfolio and references.
  • A supportive small-team company culture.
  • Benefits include health insurance, IRA contribution, paid vacation, sick and holiday time
  • We are open to discussing arrangements from 30 to 37 hours/week.
  • Associates can work from home at this time, but we prefer some days in the office when we get to post-COVID conditions.

Please submit a resume and cover letter, and include a description and results of one sample campaign that you implemented. Email to [email protected]

 

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!

 

Zero Waste Holiday Outreach — 2020 Style

Well, if there’s one word none of us would like to hear in 2021, it’s “unprecedented.” Throughout 2020, so many things we took for granted in the world of zero waste and recycling outreach, such as promoting reusable bags and cups, had to be postponed or replaced with COVID-19-related topics, such as sorting shipping waste or putting masks and gloves in the trash.

Now the holidays are here, and we find ourselves in the same outreach predicament. We can’t rely on tried-and-true holiday campaigns like our “Giving the Gift of Good Times” video for Santa Clara and Marin Counties. (Click here for the 2019 version). No-waste gifts that involve groups of people, such as fitness classes, dining out, amusement park passes, or theater tickets are not a viable option this year. Even food waste reduction topics need a fresh take, as gatherings have been reduced in size or cancelled altogether, and some of our neighbors are facing food insecurity.

create joy, not waste holiday ideas

For our clients this year, we helped adjust messaging to cover these topics in a way that aligns with public health guidelines and new realities. For example, for Palo Alto, we created a “Create Joy, Not Waste” ad, web page and bill insert (above) to align with hosting a small gathering with Zero Waste style. Actions like portion planning, using reusable dishes, recycling bottles and cans and decorating with compostable decorations still make sense, even if it’s just for your own household.

We re-envisioned our Zero Waste gift idea list to remove gifts for in-person activities and include those that offer online versions, such as art classes and music lessons and streaming theater. Local options for all of these were available, offering another benefit to the community. Outdoor recreation is at an all-time high, so national and state park passes can replace amusement parks.

And lastly, if staying home means we’re more likely to buy “stuff” this year than past years, we made sure to provide options for zero waste gift ideas that eliminate or greatly reduce packaging waste—shampoo bars, unpackaged handmade soaps, or subscriptions for refillable beauty products.

We hope this inspires you all to keep the Zero Waste holiday outreach traditions going. Small tweaks to the messaging are all it takes.