Collective Summary


Paper Recycling Campaign
Snohomish County Paper Recycling Campaign

Snohomish County Paper Recycling Campaign

Campaign used research to identify top paper types in the garbage and focus messaging - achieving 2.5 million impressions through advertising!

Waste Management conducted a campaign to increase the amount of paper recycled in Snohomish County's unincorporated communities. The outreach effort was informed by two research studies. A 2013 behavior study revealed that mixed paper is the most common recyclable found in garbage. In 2017, WM conducted a study to determine which types of mixed paper were most commonly found in the garbage.

WM collected data and insights through a one-time curbside garbage and recycling collection audit. This confirmed that customers were already recycling a majority of their paper waste, but helped identify key points of confusion and which specific types of paper were ending up the garbage most often. These paper types included calendars, notepads, gift bags, and school/child art projects, as well as polycoated paper such as milk cartons and coffee cups. Because polycoated paper is not as valuable in the recycling market, the education campaign focused on the other paper types identified in the study.

The outreach campaign itself began in October and ran through mid-December. It's messaging first thanked customers for doing a great job of recycling paper then reminded them that all paper is recyclable and highlighted the top household paper offenders ending up in the trash: notepads, construction paper, calendars and greeting cards. During the campaign, Waste Management customers in Snohomish County unincorporated areas received information about paper recycling through a digital video ad campaign and three community outreach events. Customers also received a unique direct mail piece that looked like a "thank you" card with images inside showing the top paper types ending up in the garbage. The campaign drove customers to a campaign web page with more information. Overall, the campaign resulted in 49,409 households reached via direct mail, 329 in-person conversations at events and 2.5 million impressions through advertising.

Paper Recycling Campaign

Waste Management planned and implemented a paid media campaign. The campaign included transit and online advertising.

Two examples of online advertising in our our media campaign (view PDF).

The recycling kits included two recycling tote bags, a reusable water bottle and a copy of Waste Management's recycling guidelines

Increase residential recycling of commodities found in the garbage waste stream which are valuable and easy to recycle by implementing a media campaign raising awareness about those campaigns. In 2012, our efforts focused on paper recycling, using a pledge to encourage residents to recycle more paper.

Starting in summer 2012, Waste Management, King and Snohomish Counties teamed together to develop an education and outreach campaign promoting paper recycling in Waste Management's WUTC service area.

To encourage residents to recycle more paper, the team implemented a paid and earned (PR) media campaign that focused on a paper recycling pledge. The pledge was hosted on a new page on the Waste Management Northwest website. The page included information about what types of paper are recyclable along with useful tips on how to organize your recycling area. After reading the page residents were encouraged to pledge that they would recycle more paper at home.

As incentive for residents to take the pledge and make recycling easier for residents, Waste Management offered a free recycling kit to the first 500 residents to take the pledge. The recycling kits included two recycling tote bags, a reusable water bottle and a copy of Waste Management's recycling guidelines-the kits were mailed to homes of residents' who took the pledge. As a further incentive, Waste Management will select one resident from those who have pledged to win a $500 gift card to a green home store.

To promote paper recycling and the paper pledge, a paid media campaign was planned and implemented. The campaign included transit and online advertising. The team pitched and secured four on-air segments on the local NBC affiliate. The content of the segments focused on Waste Management's Cascade Recycling Center and the importance of recycling. The paper pledge was promoted as part of these segments. The NBC affiliate also included a link to the pledge on its website-the segment generated 140 pledges in 24 hours.

  • The campaign achieved 10.5 million media impressions from online, transit advertising and PR/earned coverage, resulting in 381 pledges.

  • 1,124 web site visits to between September and October.

Waste characterization studies reveal that there are large amounts of recoverable paper in the garbage waste stream leading us to believe that residents do not understand all the different types of paper that are recyclable. Outreach and education efforts/tactics which focus on those particular recyclables which we think the audience don't really understand helps to create awareness and behavior change.

Online advertising is more effective than transit advertising in getting residents to respond by pledging to recycle more paper. Online advertising creates a measurable follow through, while transit advertising may create awareness but it does not achieve measurable results because the resident cannot take immediate action. Online advertising allows the resident to click the ad leading to the pledge page on Waste Management's website where action can be taken, a recycling pledge is made.

Coverage from local media is also an effective way to raise awareness and generate measurable results such as pledges. While the cost for generating pledges can be high when using advertising, we learned that allocating more dollars towards the earned media approach (i.e. PR) resulted in higher pledges.

WM Mobile App Launch
WM RightCycle Mobile App Launch

WM RightCycle Mobile App Launch
7,600+ customers downloaded the WM mobile app and conducted more than 24,000 searches during the six-week campaign period.

In 2017, Waste Management launched a new mobile app and website widget for customers in unincorporated areas of King and Snohomish Counties. The app/widget serves as a one-stop resource that helps Waste Management customer access recycling and composting information easily and on-the-go. Application users can access a searchable database of hundreds of items with disposal and preparation instructions, and users can play a sorting game that tests their knowledge about what goes where.

To raise awareness of the new app/widget and drive downloads, Waste Management implemented an integrated marketing campaign that included direct mail, video advertising and community outreach events. The campaign included a direct mail postcard that was sent to nearly 150,000 WM customers in the target areas, an email blast that was distributed to WM Foodcycler newsletter subscribers, and geo-targeted video ads that ran on ad networks, Pandora, Facebook and YouTube. To incentivize signups, both the direct mail postcard and Foodcycler email were supported by a giveaway promotion featuring a custom drink tumbler with the WM RightCycle logo. In addition to these tactics, Waste Management also conducted community outreach at local events and created a script to train call center staff to include mentions of the WM application and widget in calls from customers in unincorporated areas of Snohomish and King Counties.

By the end of the promotional campaign, the new WM mobile app had been downloaded a total of 7,676 times and the widget site garnered just under 54,000 views. Across both Snohomish and King Counties, digital advertising garnered a total of 4.8 million impressions, more than 1.2 million video views and almost 25,000 click-throughs.

Within King and Snohomish Counties, customers searched for 24,453 items via the online widget during the campaign period. The top 5 most common items searched for within the app and widget included primarily plastic or plastic-coated items, including pill bottles, grocery bags, cleaning product bottles, utensils and milk cartons. In Snohomish County, another top search was pizza delivery boxes. In addition, more than 16,000 app user sessions were initiated by those who downloaded the app to their phone or tablet.

Users of the app played the available sorting game a total of 2,629 times during the campaign period. This revealed that the most commonly misunderstood items in the game were plastic clamshell containers (71 percent thought they were recyclable), paper coffee cup (61percent sorted as compostable), and plastic shopping bags (58 percent sorted as recyclable).

King County Plastics Recycling Campaign
King County Plastics Recycling Campaign King County Plastics Recycling Campaign

In order to help reduce the amount of recyclable plastic ending up in the garbage, Waste Management executed an outreach effort to raise awareness and encourage proper plastics recycling in King County's unincorporated communities in November and December 2017. This project focused on helping residents to recycle more of the right plastics, focusing on plastics that are most prevalent in the garbage, but also the most valuable in today's recycling market - bottles, jugs, tubs and cups.
A previous 2013 WM Recycling Behavior Study and subsequent focus groups, identified the following as the desired behavior changes and barriers to change when it comes to plastics recycling:
    Desired Behavior Changes

  1. Put more plastic tubs, jugs, bottles and cups into the curbside recycling cart

  2. Rinse or wipe clean plastic tubs, jugs, bottles and cups before they're put into the curbside recycling cart.
    Barriers to Recycling Plastic

  • Convenience - rinsing or cleaning and not understanding how clean it has to be

  • Confusion about what is recyclable (for example, caps/lids and different plastic types)

The campaign addressed these behaviors and helped residents overcome their barriers through a playful, yet informative, campaign. Messaging focused on looking at the shape of plastics, rather than the chasing the arrows number, when determining what to recycle. In addition to messages focused on recycling plastic tubs, jugs, bottles and cups, the campaign taught consumers how to properly prepare their plastics for recycling - a quick rinse or wipe.

Campaign messaging also addressed the cognitive dissonance between how well people think they are doing when it comes to recycling plastic and how much of what they could be recycling actually ends up in the trash or isn't cleaned correctly before it's recycled. Throughout November and December, Waste Management customers received information about plastics recycling through digital video ads, a direct mail thank you card and three community outreach events. The ads drove customers to click through to a campaign web page for more information. Overall, the campaign reached 41,630 households via direct mail, generated 791 one-to-one conversations with members of the community and captured one million impressions through advertising.

WM reached more than 41,000 households and generated nearly 800 conversations with community members through digital advertising, direct mail and events.

2015 Recycling Guide Usability Study
Each year, Waste Management distributes a Residential Recycling Guide to all WUTC customers in King and Snohomish counties; the guide is tailored to each county. Although there is high consumer awareness around recycling and curbside service is available to most residents in the Puget Sound area, a large percentage of the waste stream continues to be comprised of easily recycled materials.

In 2015, Waste Management conducted a usability study to evaluate its current guidelines and/or other materials in need of updating. The goal of the research was to further improve and coordinate educational and instructional messages. The study's results will be used to update the guide and/or other materials.

In-person, in-depth usability interviews were conducted with 26 Waste Management customers. The customers were asked to provide feedback on the current guide and make suggestions for improvement; they were given the opportunity to view alternate guide formats that may be effective.

Key takeaways included:

  • Continue to provide the Residential Recycling Guide in a paper format.
  • Entice customers to read the guide by highlighting something new, even if it's not really "brand new."
  • Refer customers to the website for less frequently needed information.
  • Continue to use lots of colorful photographic images and place images next to the relevant text.
  • Better explain that customers need to ignore the recycling symbol stamped on plastic.

Harmonization of Curbside Recycling
Working with the Washington State Department of Ecology, Waste Management joined regional municipal recycling coordinators, recycling center managers, material processors and end users in 2012 to create the NW Comingled Harmonization Workgroup. The workgroup identified ways to optimize the commingled residential curbside recycling systems in the NW region of Washington state to improve the quality and quantity of recyclable materials in those programs. To determine the current performance of each current curbside recyclable material, the workgroup collected information from experts about numerous topics, including weight of material in the cart, collection issues and processing materials between January 2012 and December 2014 from topic experts.

The workgroup will produce a report that summarizes key problem areas in the recycling system and highlight recommendations for improvements. The report will identify ways to optimize residential commingled curbside recycling collection and support effective processing systems of recyclable materials to:

  1. Provide customer, environmental, social, and economic benefits;
  2. Result in quality materials for return to commerce;
  3. Ensure public confidence in the recycling system; and
  4. Provide ease of use by residents.
This project is rooted in "The Contamination in Commingled Recycling Systems Standards & Guidelines Initiative" launched by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 10 in July 2007. The purpose of the initiative was to develop standards and guidelines for commingled recycling systems in order to reduce contamination of recycled materials, increase the quality and quantity of materials recycled and capture the highest percentage of materials intended to be recycled. In September 2008, EPA Region 10 handed off the deliverables of the initiative, including common terminology, guidelines, goals, evaluation protocols and marketing tools to Oregon and Washington so they could pursue their individual implementation processes.

Harmonization of Curbside Recycling

Link - Mission Harmonization - Acrobat File

View WM's presentation - Mission: Harmonization - from the 2013 Washington State Recycling Association conference.

Improve regional harmonization of curbside recycling programs in King and Snohomish Counties.

As part of this work, the following projects were completed:

  • Prepared and presented a regional "Harmonization Matrix" for King and Snohomish Counties and Washington Department of Ecology

  • Participated in monthly Northwest Region Comingled Workgroup meetings

  • Facilitated a curbside harmonization discussion meeting with King and Snohomish Counties

  • Worked with WM Director of Recycling Operations to pilot the draft Snohomish County recycling questionnaire

  • Presented "Mission: Harmonization" workshop at 2013 Washington State Recycling Association (WSRA) conference

  • Developed and produced harmonized recycling guides for King and Snohomish Counties

As a result of this work, WM harmonized the accepted recyclables lists and 2013 Recycling Guides for King and Snohomish Counties, raised awareness regionally and statewide of the benefits of harmonizing curbside recycling programs across media sheds, and provided baseline recycling data to the Washington Department of Ecology's Northwest Comingled Workgroup, which has served as the foundation for a regional discussion about harmonization opportunities.

Harmonization presents an unparalleled opportunity to address contamination issues and customer confusion that can be tied directly to the differences between city and county recycling programs across a very small region. The complexity of the recycling system and variety of individuals involved in decision-making that impacts the functionality and consistency of recycling programs, collection, processing and recycling markets across the region will require long-term investments of time and collaboration to build a truly harmonized system.

The end result of this work will be measured in the long-term sustainability and health of the recycling system, both locally and globally.

Harmonization of Curbside Recycling

View the curbside recycling Harmonization Matrix.

Reach a common understanding about what materials are collected across the counties by researching and documenting the list of accepted recyclables for King County, Snohomish County, and all of the cities located within the boundaries of the two counties. Discuss the results and clarify the goals for this effort deciding on next steps and continuing the discussion in the DOE Comingled Workgroup setting.

In an effort to better understand the differences in curbside recycling programs, Waste Management completed research on residential curbside recycling programs in King and Snohomish Counties and the 60 cities within each of the two counties. The data was captured in a Harmonization Matrix which will be used in 2013 to discuss and evaluate whether and how to standardize collected recyclable materials between Waste Management and other areas, with the goal of having the same materials collected in King and Snohomish County WUTC areas if it is determined harmonization is the best tactic for these areas. The summary of programs will help inform another discussion group, the DOE Comingled Workgroup. This group is attended by local cities, counties, haulers, Material Recovery Facility (MRF) representatives and commodity brokers.

A curbside recycling Harmonization Matrix was created and included a list of variances between city and county recycling programs. A summary which compares the types of materials collected across programs helped the team see what materials are commonly collected and which materials are unique only to some cities. Items which are collected in some areas but not in others include plastic bags, shredded paper, plastic lids, batteries, five-gallon buckets, plastic clamshells, plastic trays (deli, bakery), plastic film, aluminum foil and trays, aerosol cans, small appliances, PVC, rigid plastic, paper and plastic take-out containers and plastic plant pots.

In total, 54 types of materials were identified as being on the "accepted recyclables" lists in cities and WUTC areas across the two counties. Fifteen items were found to be accepted universally by all 65 collection areas, 7 items were found to be accepted by 63-64 collection areas. The rest of the items ranged from being accepted by 1-55 of the collection areas.

The Harmonization Matrix was submitted as a discussion tool for the Washington Department of Ecology's Northwest Region Comingled Workgroup. In this workgroup, the Matrix has provided a means of comparing municipal recycling programs across the region. Further discussions continue in this group with objectives being set by the group to guide their discussions and deliverables. The matrix and summary of collected materials have proved instrumental in the progress of this group.

Getting to More: Review of Options for an Area with Robust Recycling

In response to King County's desire to examine alternative methods by which recycling diversion can be increased, Waste Management explored several alternatives to the traditional educational model, including mandatory yard waste service, a change in collection frequency and a rate structure that includes the cost of yard waste service with the cost of recycling and garbage service. For several months, Waste Management analyzed data and implications regarding these and other potential refinements to the existing curbside collection program in the WUTC area serviced by Waste Management. The team examined status quo rate incentives, varying levels of subscriptions and identified changes that could result in a greater amount of garbage diverted from the landfills. Waste Management then looked at an array of programs, incentives and policies that could potentially increase recycling and diversion models. At the conclusion of the study, Waste Management made several recommendations that could increase recycling and diversion in the WUTC area, ranging from mandatory service to an embedded rate structure, every-other-week garbage collection and weekly recycling collection. This study was an important first step to any policy changes that may occur within King County to meet their specific diversion goals and will serve as a back drop for future approaches to increase overall recycling and diversion in the WUTC areas.

Residential Recycling Outreach

View the Residential Recycling guide for Snohomish County or King County.

Create an all-in-one, user-friendly recycling resource booklet for King and Snohomish County WUTC residential customers that provides clear guidelines for curbside recycling and composting programs and detailed information about how the recycling system works.

The 2013 recycling guides were developed collaboratively with both King and Snohomish Counties, which resulted in harmonized recycling lists and key messages, and featured three new pages:

  1. Steps to Recycling Success
  2. Why Can't I Recycle Everything?
  3. Recycling Myth Busters
The new pages were developed as a direct result of the common questions customers shared in the 2012 Recycling Survey, and to address specific contamination issues identified by Cascade Recycling Center operations staff.

The 2013 King County Recycling Guide and 2013 Snohomish County Recycling Guide were mailed to all residential WUTC customers in June and handed out at community events in WUTC service areas.

In conversations with residents at community events, many expressed their appreciation for the information within the guide and were prompted to ask more detailed questions about the recycling process and confirm information about where to take items such as batteries, CFL bulbs, electronic waste, medication and paint.

This was the first time that the recycling guidelines for the two counties were created collaboratively. As a result, WM WUTC residential customers in both counties received the same key messages, recycling instructions and categories of resources for household hazardous waste, hard to recycle items and community waste reduction resources.

Behavior Study

Link to report - 2.5 MB Acrobat File

Read the complete WM Behavior Study.

Link to White Paper Report

Read the Behavior Study White Paper

Link  - Recycling Behavior Study sets the stage for future programs

Recycling Behavior Study sets the stage for future programs

Determine the barriers and benefits to recycling specific materials in order to better understand garbage and recycling behaviors. Utilize the information to design and implement program strategies that lead to an increase in recycling among residents in single-family homes within the WUTC areas. Conduct a pilot behavior change program(s) in 2014.

Specifically, the research goals were to:

  • Identify current baseline recycling behaviors that allow for tracking change over time;
  • Identify the values, attitudes, and beliefs that relate to recycling and the value of recycling;
  • Identify barriers and effective motivations or incentives for desired behavior changes;
  • Identify the most effective communications tools to achieve the desired behavior changes; and
  • Identify needs of ethnic communities of interest.

Working in partnership with King and Snohomish Counties, WM implemented a comprehensive behavior study with residents in the WTUC areas of the two counties. The study design included two key methodologies:

  1. A waste characterization study of garbage carts. Garbage cart contents were bagged and tagged at each household and then sorted and weighed by material type.

  2. An in-person survey of households. Residents were asked to answer a series of questions in-person by a study representative. Each resident was asked the same questions.
The waste characterization study data was linked to the household survey data. The combination of the garbage-cart sort data and household survey data provides a unique way to learn about recycling attitudes that are associated with the residents' actual behaviors.

Data on the barriers to proper disposal of recyclable materials were collected during the in-person visit to the household and were based on the recyclable materials found in each household's garbage cart. Study participants had garbage and recycling services, and may or may not have had yard waste service.

In order to attain a representative sample of households in each county, customer addresses within garbage collection routes were randomly selected for participation in the study. In addition, routes within zip codes identified by the census as having fairly high proportions of the ethnic groups of interest were labeled as "ethnic routes."

The ethnic routes comprised 25 percent of the randomly selected garbage collection routes in each county. The ethnic subgroups were defined as customers who spoke Chinese (Mandarin), Korean, Spanish, or Vietnamese.

A total of 411 households were included in this study; of those, 225 completed the in-person survey. The study design provided a representative sample of WM customers who reside in single-family homes in the WUTC areas in King and Snohomish Counties.

Garbage-Cart Data Collection

Garbage carts from 411 households across King County and Snohomish County (138 and 273 respectively) were collected and sorted from April 4 to May 2, 2013. The materials of interest for this study were those that belonged in the recycling and yard waste carts.

Findings from All Households:

  • Over 11,000 pounds of garbage was collected across the two counties.

  • The average number of pounds per household in King County was 27.17.

  • The average number of pounds per household in Snohomish County was 28.4.

  • In both counties, food scraps comprised a large proportion (by weight) of the garbage (30.4 percent in King County and 30.1 percent in Snohomish County).

  • In both counties, the various paper categories (i.e., newspaper and cardboard, mixed paper, and polycoated containers) made up the largest proportion of garbage (by weight) that should have been disposed of in the recycling cart (12.2 percent in King County and 10.5 percent in Snohomish County).
In-Person Survey Data Collection

The response rate for the in-person surveys was 60 percent - 225 in-person surveys were completed (76 in King County and 149 in Snohomish County). The favorable response rate for this study speaks to the strength of the study protocol.

Sample Characteristics:

  • The average age of survey respondents was 49.1 years for King County and 50.2 years for Snohomish County, with a range of 18 to 89.

  • Survey respondents were more likely to be men (54.3 percent in King County and 59.6 percent in Snohomish County).

  • About 62 percent of households in Snohomish County and 42 percent of households in King County did not have children under 18 living at home.

  • Of the households that had children living at home, the overwhelming majority had one or two.

  • All 225 interviews were conducted in English, but 8 percent of the respondents said that at least sometimes they spoke a language other than English in their home.

  • Two respondents in King County and five respondents in Snohomish County identified themselves as Hispanic or Latino.

  • The large majority of respondents in both counties were white.

Residents are highly motivated to recycle - they consider recycling to be a very important thing for themselves and their neighbors to do. With the exception of food scraps and food-soiled paper, residents stated that recycling was not difficult. Therefore, behavior change tools that leverage high motivations and low barriers are likely to be effective in increasing residential recycling rates in the WUTC areas.

The garbage-cart sort data revealed that there is considerable room for improvement, particularly in the cases of mixed paper, plastics, and poly-coated containers, which were found in a large majority of garbage carts. For this reason, examining the reasons that residents gave for times when they may not have recycled these items was instructive.

Community based social marketing (CBSM) provides a useful framework for changing recycling behavior. The community based social marketing approach dictates that the specific behavior change tools that will be most effective depend on the combination of barriers and benefits to the target behavior. Drawing on behavioral science, CBSM utilizes strategies such as commitment, incentives, prompts, social modeling, and social norms to promote change. Importantly, each of these tools is matched to the behavior and the context, and some tools work better in some situations than others.

By examining where respondents fell on the continuum of barriers and benefits for each type of recyclable material based on their survey responses, we can make decisions about what type of approach will be most likely to produce meaningful behavior change.

Key Takeaways

  • Recycling was very important and not difficult to do
Barriers to Recycle-Cart Materials
  • Mixed paper, plastic and poly-coated containers were found in most garbage carts

  • Preparation and confusion about what can and cannot be recycled
Barriers to Recycling Yard-Waste Materials
  • Inconvenience, laziness, forgetfulness and smell or mess
Cooperation with Recycling
  • 30 percent stated that no one in the household was uncooperative
  • 56 percent of households with children stated that children were the least cooperative
Recommendations from this study fall into four categories:
  1. Recommendations for materials that belong in the recycling cart
  2. Behavior change tools for recyclable materials that belong in the yard waste
  3. Ongoing evaluation
  4. Ethnic populations of interest
Recommendations for Materials That Belong in the Recycling Cart

Cognitive Dissonance: Approaches to behavior change that fall into this category would include information reminding residents that they consider recycling to be important and urging them to be consistent in carrying out the behavior.
  • Education: Education is an ongoing and important element in recycling programs. Future education efforts should incorporate the specific feedback received from residents in this study.

  • Feedback: Providing residents with information about how well they and their neighbors are really doing with respect to target behaviors can improve performance levels.

  • Prompts: Residents cited forgetting as an important reason for failing to recycle; prompts can help to reduce this type of error.
Behavior-Change Tools for Recyclable Materials That Belong in the Yard-Waste
  • Make it Easy: Convey information that emphasizes how easy it would be to switch from putting food scraps in one container (garbage cart) to the other (yard cart) and provide or suggest suitable containers for saving food scraps to recycle.

  • Commitments: Individuals tend to be more likely to follow through on behaviors to which they have made a public commitment.
Ongoing Evaluation

Continued periodic garbage-sort studies that utilize the same material definitions and sampling protocol as this study will allow WM to accurately gauge desired customer behaviors for specific material types. The studies can be small in scale and timed to be completed after the implementation of specific outreach activities.

Ethnic Populations of Interest

Although there were some interesting findings from non-English speaking households in the study, the sample size for any specific group was not large enough to adequately describe the attitudes and behaviors of any of those groups. Future research should be conducted in order to identify the needs of specific ethnic or non- English speaking groups.

Promotion of Public Space Recycling

The most recent example of durability is the Big Belly Solar container that was the only thing left on the NJ Boardwalk after Hurricane Sandy.

The Pilot Project Proposal outlined program options that would best assist WUTC customers recycle "residential" packaging, plastic bottles, glass bottles, aluminum cans and paper when away from home.

Investigate and consider implementing public space recycling technology to allow residents to recycle in high traffic public areas. Develop a proposal for an "away from home" recycling pilot program for implementation in high traffic public space locations within King County and Snohomish County WUTC areas.

In King and Snohomish Counties, residential WUTC customers are able to recycle a wide variety of items at home and in the workplace, but have few opportunities to recycle in public spaces. Waste Management worked with King and Snohomish Counties to complete research on a number of public space recycling system vendors and created a work plan to implement an "Away From Home" recycling pilot project in 2013. The pilot project will focus on a selection of destination locations (malls, transit centers and parks) and test a variety of container placement locations and signage styles which are intended to increase recycling while keeping contamination to a minimum.

Waste Management, King and Snohomish Counties conducted research on existing public space recycling systems and location options most likely to serve WUTC customers.

The final proposal outlined program options that would best assist WUTC customers recycle "residential" packaging, plastic bottles, glass bottles, aluminum cans and paper when away from home.

Snohomish County will have 10 pairs of garbage compactor/recycling containers placed in public spaces. The amount of diversion and level of contamination will be monitored. Based on these results and further discussion between Waste Management and King County, the team will decide whether to pilot similar technology in King County.

After completing the initial research for the public space recycling proposal, it was clear that there has not been a thorough comparison study of how different styles of public space recycling containers impact contamination rates. Public space recycling presents special challenges which the pilot in Snohomish County will shed light on. A contamination study of the new Snohomish County BigBelly/SmartBelly public space recycling stations is recommended for 2013.

Recycling Incentive Program

Each of the three test groups received a custom letter, Recycling Guide door hanger, and envelope that were tailored to the key messages of the group. View the full campaign.

King County 2012-13 Curbside Recycling Behavior Study - Final Report

Increase recycling while decreasing contamination in the curbside recycling cart by designing and piloting incentive programs aimed at determining what types of messages resonate with residents, provoking them to increase their recycling.

In an effort to increase recycling and decrease contamination with residential recycling customers, Waste Management worked with King County to develop and implement a pilot project to test the effectiveness of three types of messages and incentives to learn more about what may influence an increase in recycling behavior as measured by the increase of pounds of recyclables in the recycling cart. Three types of incentive programs were identified and pilot education programs were designed to test the effectiveness of a new style of "Oops" and "Congrats" cart tags and their impact on provoking behavior change to increase customer knowledge of accepted recyclables, as well as decreasing contamination in curbside recycling carts.

There were four King County WUTC residential recycling customer groups selected for the pilot. On four residential recycling routes, 50 customers were selected at random, for a total of 200 participants.

The four pilot groups include:

  • Control group - no mailings, outreach or pre-notification about the program
  • Group #1 - Environmental Messages
  • Group #2 - Economic Messages
  • Group #3 - Financial Incentive ($25 Fred Meyer Gift Card)
Each of the three test groups received a custom letter, recycling guide door hanger, and envelope that were tailored to the key messages of the group. In addition, a custom "Oops tag" and "Congrats tag" were created to provide feedback directly to customers at the curb about how they are doing, what can be recycled and which items are not accepted in the recycle cart.

After the letters were mailed, Waste Management staff visited each home in the three pilot groups to deliver door hangers, including recycling guides reinforcing the correct recyclables. Once a month, for three months, each pilot household's recycling cart was weighed and checked for contaminants. Customers who increased their recycling weight month-over-month for each of the three months received positive recognition (the congrats tag) and those who were incorrectly placing materials in the recycling cart, negative recognition (the oops tag). The content of the congrats tag was based on the type of incentive group.

Two hundred customer recycling carts, 50 carts selected from four King County WUTC residential recycling routes, were weighed and checked for contamination four times each over the course of this pilot project. A total of 2,000 data points were collected and analyzed as part of this study.

At the outset of the study, the education team expected to find some contamination in the recycling carts, as there has been a consistent amount of contamination coming into the Cascade Recycling Center from residential recycling routes.

The unexpected discovery was how many residential customers are placing their recyclables in bags, in the same way that garbage is typically prepared and placed in the garbage cart. On all education materials given to WUTC customers, recycling guidelines and flyers instruct customers to place recyclables in the recycling cart "loose" so that items can be easily sorted at the recycling center. Recyclables were consistently found bagged in clear, white and black plastic bags.

Over the course of this study, four types of customer recycling behaviors were documented by observing the presence of non-program materials found in recycling carts after either the "oops" or "congrats" feedback tags were given to customers:

  • Improved (16%): Improvement in the occurrences of non-program materials

  • Inconsistent (24%): Improvement in the occurrences of non-program materials, but new, non-program item were found in the second or third cart studies

  • Consistently Good (28%): No occurrences of non-program items found throughout the study

  • Consistently Contaminated (32%): Occurrences of non-program items found every time carts were checked
Out of the 146 households who set out their recycling carts during the recycling behavior study, 40 (27%) households placed repeat non-program items in their carts after receiving specific "oops" feedback.

Incidents of repeat contamination with the same non-program material:

  • Environmental Group - 13 households
  • Economic Group - 6 households
  • Incentive Group - 21 households

    The remaining 106 households -- 73%, improved their recycling by decreasing the occurrences of non-program materials in response to the customer feedback tags.

    There were only two households where the "oops" tag and affixed bag of non-program materials were never removed from the cart.

    In most cases, when a "congrats" tag was given to a customer, it was left on the cart.

    With the exception of paper towels, all contaminants found were some type of non-program plastic product or plastic packaging.

    In the case of plastic-covered cardboard and bagged newspaper, these two items are classified as non-program because the primary recyclable material (cardboard and newspaper) cannot be sorted at the recycling center due to cross-contamination of mixed materials.

    There are four principal conclusions that can be made from this study of residential recycling behaviors:
    • At-the-cart customer feedback tools and outreach is an effective way to increase customer understanding about which items are part of the current recycling program, and decrease occurrences of non-program materials.

    • Volume, not weight, should be used as the primary metric to measure increases in recycling.

    • Customers are very confused about which plastics are recyclable.

      While there were many other non-program items found, none of the other materials were observed at the same frequency or quantity as non-recyclable plastic materials.

    • Customers are not connecting their role in ensuring that recyclable items are able to be efficiently and effectively sorted at the recycling center (i.e. not bagged or cross-contaminated), and the intended outcome: that recyclable items placed in the cart are able to be sent on to markets and manufacturers for recycling.
    Unfortunately, due to the challenge of measuring increases in recycling by cart weight, there is not enough information to draw a conclusion about which of the three value proposition recycling messages was the most impactful in motivating households to increase recycling the most.

    When reviewing the changes in household behavior after "oops" and "congrats" tags were distributed, the Economic Group accumulated the most "congrats" tags overall and had the fewest occurrences, by frequency, of non-program materials.

    Based on these conclusions, Waste Management recommends that future residential recycling education campaigns provide specific examples of recyclable and non recyclable plastic materials; and help customers better understand the active role they have in ensuring that the can, bottle, paper or cardboard they are recycling is prepared in such a way that it can be sorted at the recycling center and eventually made into a new product.

    In addition, whenever possible, at-the-cart customer feedback tools should be utilized to validate good recycling behavior and provide information about what type of non-program items should not be placed in the recycling cart.

  • Increase Proportion of Households Subscribing to Curbside Collection

    The campaign ad buy reached more than one million people through online and hard copy newspapers. View sample ads.

    Curbside collection mailings in King County and Snohomish County reached approximately 20,000 residents.

    Raise awareness about the ease, convenience and cost savings of curbside garbage and recycling service by creating a direct mail and advertising campaign to promote recycling and increase curbside collection service targeting households who self-haul their garbage and recycling to local transfer stations and collection locations.

    In coordination with King and Snohomish Counties, Waste Management created a direct mail and online and newspaper print advertising campaign in the WUTC areas of both counties. The key messages used throughout the campaign were save money, time, fuel, and increase leisure time when you use curbside collection services by Waste Management.

    Phone calls to the Waste Management Customer Service Center increased by 230 calls during this campaign. The calls were generated from both King and Snohomish Counties.

    The direct mail promotional materials were delivered by March 15th and reached approximately 20,000 residents.

    The campaign ad buy reached more than one million people through online and hard copy newspapers resulting in 200,800 impressions, 212 click-throughs with an 11 percent click-through rate.The national average click through rate is 2 percent, indicating that this advertising campaign content and visual appeal was very interesting to readers and resulted in signups.

    Direct mail into the WUTC area can be a bit challenging due to the geographical boundaries of the territory- mailings can potentially go into other territories, creating confusion for vendors and customers. Although we did see an increase in activity on the Customer Service Center hotlines and website services during the campaign, it did not necessarily turn into a lot of new customers. This affect is to be expected when you are working to increase curbside garbage and recycling service among self-haulers. They may have many barriers to subscription service.

    Through online tracking, we could identify which ads generated the most website traffic.This information is helpful in planning future campaigns in order to use tactics which get the best results, focusing our efforts and resources.

    This campaign did raise awareness and educate residents, but did not result in as many new signups as we had hoped. As a result, we decided the direct mailing tactic was too expensive for the number of signups received.This will be taken into consideration when planning direct mail campaigns in the future. We believe a combination of tactics may be necessary to get self-haulers to sign-up for curbside service.

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