Sometimes working on solid waste and recycling education and community behavior change can feel a lot like persuasion.
When you understand the subtle art of making a compelling argument, you can build better campaigns and messaging, target problem areas and make a lasting impact on your community and the environment through increased program participation and compliance. Sounds good, right?
If you need a little relevant inspiration to help get you started, here are 20 fresh ways to do just that:
1. Many arguments make light work.
People take environmental action for a variety of reasons. As illogical as it may sound to the waste professional, benefiting the environment isn’t always one of them. According to at least one study at The Ohio University, by approaching your general argument for recycling from multiple angles, you’re apt to motivate more individuals to take part in your program. For example, speaking to the local economic benefits of recycling as well as conservation outcomes may motivate different groups.
2. Play it again, Sam.
Repetition helps people remember what you’ve said. It’s also true that the more someone hears something, the more likely they are to believe it’s factual. So keep your waste messages in front of your audience, and keep on repeating them. Post maintenance messages three times per week about recycling plastic bags in stores (and not in your recycling bin) across social channels, and include the same information in other media such as your waste calendar and app reminders, website banners, and e-newsletters.
3. Tell the truth. Younger audiences—particularly Gen Z, born between the mid-1990s and mid-200s—have never experienced a knowledge landscape without instant research available via the devices in their pockets. When it comes to recycling, this sets the bar fairly high: Younger recyclers have heard that sometimes, materials placed into recycling bins don’t get recycled. You need to know your end markets–that is, where your materials end up after they’re shipped for recycling–so when people ask if all the plastics collected by your program are truly recycled, you can honestly explain what happens, quell their fears, maintain trust and keep them engaged with your programs.
4. Increase relevance.
Everyone knows that presenting identical messages about recycling to a group of second-graders and the members of your local chamber of commerce isn’t logical, but you can take personalization a step further by adding relatable statistics and examples that will help listeners absorb and retain information. Kids may latch onto how long it takes a juice carton to biodegrade in a landfill, while local developers might like to know how many local jobs your recycling program has created or retained.
5. Empower your people.
Your audience needs to know they can make a difference through recycling – otherwise, it’s just another item on the to-do list. A community that understands its own great power to create change represent an indomitable force for good. To do it, provide practical, relatable waste statistics in print, online and when you’re speaking.
Do your research and include quantities and items that will speak to your audience.
Example: If you recycle XX beverage cans per week, at the end of the year you’ll have saved enough aluminum to build a XX!
6. Go zombie!
Yep, it’s time to go after the BRAINS! of your would-be recyclers. According to psychologists, the human brain is hardwired to seek three things: affiliation, accuracy and positive self-concept. Make your people feel like they’re part of something bigger, provide accurate information, and encourage ongoing recycling with positive reinforcements, such as monthly “success statistics” on your website and social media. An example of a success statistic could be a positive participation percentage, which also can make your recyclers feel as though they are part of a larger movement.
7. Focus on digital experiences.
For younger audiences, engaging online experiences are another key to maintaining attention and building trust. Provide real-time access to recycling information online using website tools and mobile apps that help people to self-serve, and become better recyclers (such as the Collection Calendar or Waste Wizard provided by ReCollect).
8. Find common ground.
Research concludes that people listen to those they like, and they like those with whom they share similarities. You can build rapport with your recycling audience by taking a relatable approach, framing your messages as a friendly gesture from one recycler to another.
9. Point to the experts.
You’re a solid waste educator in your own right, but for this tactic to work, you’ll call on the big guns. Point to statistics and conclusions from well-known, reputable sources who agree with you on the importance of recycling often and right. Think Environmental Protection Agency, The Recycling Partnership and National Resources Defense Council.
10. Use the 1, 5, 50 rule.
The Recycling Partnership’s guidance for matching the message to the medium says you can successfully plant just one idea in a mass medium; five things during a face-to-face meeting; and 50 or more ideas in a searchable database. In other words, don’t try to recycling “rules” in your Smalltown, USA community meeting; instead, argue for recycling itself and present a website URL or your waste and recycling app for specific information.
11. About face.
When’s the last time you added a few new photographs of local recyclers to your website or other communication materials? It’s quick, easy and free — and research shows that the human eye is drawn to happy faces. In fact, an attractive face gets noticed more quickly than other images and is “processed more easily to reach consciousness.”
12. Stay positive.
The future risks and current outcomes of climate change and environmental degradation are real—but you can find better ways to tell the story of recycling than through the lens of gloom and doom. According to University of Arizona, messages framed positively are often more persuasive, so focus on the positive aspects of recycling in your messaging for the best outcomes.
Example – No: Don’t throw away cans and bottles. Yes: Recycle cans and bottles to save natural resources and keep our waterways clean!
13. Just do it.
Don’t tell your audience you’re trying to persuade them to recycle more and better. Instead of giving them “10 Reasons Recycling Matters,” just serve up concise facts about how to do it. (The research says this will nix any naysayers’ opportunity to form counter-arguments ahead of time.)
14. Pace matters.
Preaching to your rockstar recyclers at an environmental club meeting? Go slowly and make your argument methodically – they’re listening! But if your audience is a mixed group of people who sometimes recycle – or don’t recycle at all – be ready to do some fast talking. Research indicates listeners not already convinced of an argument may find a fast speaker to be intelligent and trustworthy, so add a few more slides and click quickly.
15. Make it normal.
There’s ample evidence to prove that people seek conformity – so casting recycling as a social norm could help persuade even the outliers in your community to take part. Try it: Measure baseline set-out rates for two or three collection routes, then create a friendly competition by sharing the percentages once a month for six months via digital channels. With any luck, you’ll see slight participation increases across all routes.
16. Avoid strongly held beliefs.
Most solid waste educators identify as environmentalists, and we can bring all the facts! However, when the goal is behavior adoption, often better results can be achieved by skipping hot-button issues (such as climate change) in mass recycling messages and sticking to ideas that everyone can embrace: Conserving natural resources, creating local jobs, and building fewer landfills – no one wants to live near a landfill! — are all persuasive, pro-recycling talking points. While the melting of polar ice caps due to human-driven climate change is real, focusing on the problem isn’t likely to help recycling champions gain many followers.
17. Match style.
Candidates often lose (or gain) a linguistic accent on the campaign trail – and it’s more than a political stunt. Matching the tone and style of your audience, whether aloud or in writing, can make you more persuasive. In recycling education, this might mean adopting slightly more formal vocabulary and style when speaking or writing for adults and keeping it simple for kids. In mass messaging, it’s always wise to keep things as concise and straightforward as possible. If the classroom you’re speaking to has been learning about conservation, toss out impactful, easy-to-remember stats on how many trees they can save by recycling all their classroom paper. If you’re speaking at an employee lunch-and-learn for a local manufacturing business, speak to the mechanical side of recycling, highlighting how technology and human labor work together to sort materials for recycling.
18. Ditch the jargon.
Remember when you didn’t know the meaning of MRF, and you had no clue what a National Sword was? Your recyclers still don’t know because they don’t work in the industry. Jargon is confusing – save it for conferences and peer discussions, not community messaging. Call your MRF what it is — a municipal recycling facility or recycling center.
19. Listen first.
Before you make decisions about how to communicate recycling information to your community, it’s wise to listen to your constituents’ questions, ideas and concerns about the program. Ward meetings and lengthy surveys represent the old-school here, you can gather information quickly using social media polls or by asking subscribers to reply to a question in your e-newsletter each month. Need ideas? Ask, “What’s the hardest thing about recycling?” and give options: a) Knowing what goes in the bin; B) Remembering to put my recycling at the curb on the right day; C) Getting my family to participate; or D) Other (fill in your answer). What you hear might surprise you!
20. Build a digital brand.
This may sound scary to waste professionals on a tight budget who have typically needed to rely on existing structures to communicate. The good news is, technology is more accessible and affordable than ever, and out-of-the-box solutions for solid waste communications have come a long way. Your residents lead increasingly busy lives: They don’t just expect you to provide information digitally, they need it so that they can do the right thing!