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2024 MRN/SWANA Mid-Atlantic Annual Conference Recap

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Words Matter - Effective Communications that Constrain Contamination

October 27, 2022 (webinar)

At the end of the day, the success of our waste management and recycling systems still depends in large part on people putting the right stuff in the right bin. So how do we accomplish that?
In this webinar, Keysha Burton of The Recycling Partnership shows us how the right communications strategy can increase participation while decreasing contamination by moving people from just wanting to recycle to recycling right.

Listen to the full discussion below. Download the slide deck (pdf).

Here are some quick highlights:

Behavior is complex but often follows patterns. Develop your communications plans based on this general understanding of human behavior. Want to change behavior?

•    Don’t make assumptions. Measure (know whether what you are doing is - or isn’t - working).
•    Change one distinct behavior at a time.
•    Move people from awareness and caring, to knowing, to doing and improving, to sharing (creates a system where everyone is engaged).

Avoid being vague. Be clear and concise: Clarity is kindness. Give them clear, specific instructions on what you want them to do, i.e., keep caps on, don’t bag your recyclables, recycle your cans vs. clean it up, don’t contaminate, keep it green.

Keep it simple: The average attention span is 8 seconds; the average of things someone can remember as a sequence is up to 7. Consistent, simple messaging works best. Tip: add visual elements to reinforce your messaging.

Awareness isn’t enough. Also incorporate vehicles that will help to expand the knowledge base, engagement and advocacy of the community to stimulate behavior changes.

Changing behavior via Feet on the Street program: A systematic approach that provides direct feedback to residents in an effort to improve recycling quality and encourage behavior change. The program uses a three-pronged approach:

1.    Inform and trigger: Send informational mailers with clear messaging on what can and can’t be put in recycling bins. At drop-off centers, install clear signage at site and/or on the containers.
2.    Personalized feedback: Provide direct feedback (Feet on the Street) regarding contamination by tagging individual bins. At drop-off centers, provide onsite staff to offer feedback.
3.    Issue specific communications: Send follow-up mailers on a specific issue (i.e., behavior) that needs to be fixed. Tip: be sure to measure progress throughout the program.

Free Resources:


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