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.

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!

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.

 

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

Recycling Realities: How to Create Anti-Contamination Messaging

 

There has been a lot of media coverage lately about the problems and challenges of recycling, including the rejection of the tons of recyclables that we used to ship to China. Because of the news, many community members are aware that something bad is going on with recycling.

In our presentation at California Resource Recovery Association (CRRA) on August 12 in Rancho Mirage, California, I presented some notable examples of anti-contamination recycling messages by haulers, as well as our own work tackling these issues in Palo Alto and Livermore.

items prepped for recycling or rejected

We based our work on actual recycling realities in each city. In Palo Alto, the contamination was focused on food and liquid in recycling. In Livermore, sorting issues (“Wishcycling”) as well as organics cart contamination were affecting the quality of the recycling stream. These findings informed our social media, newsletter content and campaign concept development.

Clearly presented information, using clear calls to action (Wipe, Pour, Scrape, etc.) and good visuals is a start to tackling the problem. Reaching residents using a multi-channel approach, and repeating the message regularly will help get the word out.

View the presentation below: 

 

 

“Selling” No-Waste Holiday Gifts with Fun and Connection

I’ve got a guilty secret to share. To retreat from the past year’s stressful news cycle, I’ve been watching Christmas movies on the weekends, on a cable channel that is running them marathon-style, non-stop until Christmas. Last Sunday, while watching Return to Christmas Creek, I was heartened to see that a prominent theme was the rejection of material gift giving during the holidays. The story’s main character, a busy professional named Amelia, is told by her boss that her shopping app, designed to easily buy gifts online, is missing the true spirit of Christmas: personal connection. He rejects funding it and Amelia is devastated.

We were thinking of this very theme as we developed a video ad to promote waste-free gift giving with Santa Clara County Recycling and Waste Reduction Division. Our video also celebrates experience and connection over things. Gifts that provide experiences create memories—and while stuff ends up in the landfill, memories last a lifetime:

 

At the end of her journey of self-reflection, Amelia revamps her shopping app to include ways to help those in need, and because this is happening in movie-land, it is celebrated and funded and everyone gets their happy ending! (Oh, and she reunites her family and finds true love in the process of course!).

In order to help people give Zero Waste gifts of experience, we created a list of great gift ideas on SCC’s website. For a real-life version of Amelia’s app, or if you’re thinking of starting or promoting a registry, try out SoKind. The site allows anyone to collect non-material, homemade and charitable gift ideas in one place to share with friends and family.

Best wishes for a fun-filled, waste-free holiday season from the entire Gigantic team!

 

 

Sunnyvale’s FoodCycle Branding and Video — A CAPIO Award Winner!

Sunnyvale’s “FoodCycle” program is unique in the Bay Area. It truly “recycles” food into a new product—animal feed! The food scraps are collected using a split garbage/food scrap cart, and sent to a facility for processing. Using the garbage cart is a clear departure from nearby cities that collect food scraps in the yard trimmings cart to create compost. To address the many public concerns with this major change, the City needed clear and engaging marketing tools – including a video:

 

The Gigantic team structured the video around a behavioral process: How do people deal with food scraps? When do they make them? The information is broken down into clear steps:

1) Preparing the collection pail with accepted liners,

2) Showing when and how food waste is created,

3) Detailing what kinds of food scraps are accepted and

4) How to dispose of the kitchen waste in the new curbside cart.

This approach differs from other food scrap outreach that emphasizes what kinds of food are accepted. Instead, the model “FoodCycles” in situations when food waste is generated: cooking/prepping food, cleaning up after meals, and cleaning old leftovers out of the fridge.

We’re proud to say that the video won the Epic Award of Distinction in its category at the California Association of Public Information Officials (CAPIO) annual awards competition in April 2018.