‘Tis the Season…for Zero Waste Messaging!

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:

Normalize: 
Secondhand gifts
handmade gifts
consumable gifts
experience gifts
small business gifts

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:

From Zero Waste Marin:

Promotion of Gift of Great Memories

Happy Zero Waste Holidays!
Shop Smart
Compost Scraps
Love Leftovers

From StopFoodWaste:

stop food waste holiday tips email

From the City of Livermore/Livermore Recycles:

Bnny thanksgiving dinner - Plan, Pack, Repurpose

From the City of Berkeley:

reduce waste this thanksgiving email

Happy Holidays!

The Gigantic Team

 

 

 

Do Californians Get the Connection of Food Waste and Climate Change?

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.

To receive a copy of the full survey report, please email Gigantic.

Which Message is Best? Results from a Pilot Cart Tagging Project in Sunnyvale, California

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?

social norming message tag
One tag version had messages of social norming and the benefits of foodcycling.

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.

The more effective tag addressed barriers to food scrap recycling.

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!

Hard Numbers, Hard Truths: How Data from Spot Checks, Surveys and More Guide Outreach

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.

See the full presentation here:

Learn more about CRRA here.

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.

SB 1383: Composting Outreach to Multi-Family Residents

Man emptying compost pail into correct cart
A new campaign encourages organic material composting for multi-family residents.

SB 1383 requires everyone in California — residents and businesses — to separate and compost organic materials, such as plant trimmings, leaves, grass and food scraps. In much of the Bay Area, yard trimmings and food scrap collection has been offered to single-family households for years. But the new law is providing a much-needed push to roll out food scrap collection service to multi-unit buildings. These buildings, which can have a few as four and up to hundreds of individual units, provide challenges, but also opportunities to keep more organic material out of the landfill.

Food scrap collection is an entirely new concept to the vast majority of apartment, condo and and townhome residents, and a clear and effective outreach program is a must-have. Outreach is ideally implemented at each building site. A successful program requires a good partnership between the service provider, the city or waste agency, and the property manager.

Gigantic is proud to have been part of a great collaboration with the South Bayside Waste Management Authority and their service provider, Recology, to create a composting campaign for apartment and condo residents.

Our team helped focus the campaign for the end-user of the program: the resident. The campaign will support the work of Recology’s implementation team and include a doorhanger for individual units and a poster for lobbies, trash areas and mail rooms. Both highlight the new food scrap composting requirement and link via QR code to a step-by-step instructional video. To support this site-specific outreach, we’ll be promoting the video on social media via paid promotion.

The video works to show, not tell, and visually communicates the food scrap recycling process. The addition of select graphic captions help identify key steps in the process. Voice-over in three languages (English, Spanish and Cantonese) help reach residents who may otherwise miss the message, while providing more detailed information.

Our video also includes 1383-required messaging about the law and its goal to reduce greenhouse gases.

We enjoyed working with this highly motivated client team. The program rolled out in June and we look forward to seeing the results!

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.

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:

 

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!