Education and promoting your program

Residential education is key to a successful food scraps and other organics diversion program. At the start of a program education is necessary to explain:

  1. What organics recycling is
  2. Why it’s important
  3. How to participate (and sign up)
  4. What is and is not accepted

What is included

Initial program education should also include what is and is not provided for those who choose to participate. Each of these items have an impact on start-up and ongoing program costs as well. Each community needs to decide what all they will include in the program. Some items to consider include carts, kitchen collection pails, compostable bags. Items to consider for each of these are detailed below.

Provide carts

  • Who owns the carts – the City, hauler or the resident? Will there be costs associated with replacing damaged carts? If so, who pays for new lids, wheels, or entire carts. Note that squirrels really love to chew through carts.

Provide kitchen collection pails

  • Kitchen collection pails are provided in a starter kit by many municipalities. Items to consider for kitchen collection pails include:

What model do you provide? One size does not fit all.

How many are provided per household? Is there an added fee for the pail or are the costs included in the program cost?

  • If choosing to not provide kitchen pails it is recommended to provide detailed tips to get started collecting organics.
  • Some communities will have kitchen pails to give out at neighborhood and community events. This is a great incentive to get people to come to your table to learn more about the program.
Provide compostable bags
  • Providing ongoing compostable plastic bags to participants?

What size and how many bags do you provide?

Helps reduce perception of added cost to participate in the program, however, it will increase ongoing program cost considerably.

  • Provide starter bags when people sign up?

Gives people an idea of compostable bags and what to look for when they need to purchase more.

If choosing to provide a starter set of bags, go out for bid for compostable bag packets. Make sure they are BPI certified. Make sure to promote there are many different bag brands available for residents to consider after they run out of the starter set.

Work with manufacturers to have wide variety of bag options available at local grocery, food co-op, big retail and hardware stores.

  • Do not provide bags and educate on bags accepted.

This may make getting started more challenging for residents.

Other educational materials

Some communities provide things like posters, magnets, or labels for home containers. Make these easily accessible. Include them in a welcome kit or have them prominently posted on your website for residents to request they be mailed to their home or printed.

The City of Minneapolis chose to not provide kitchen pails or ongoing compostable bags for residents. They do provide a welcome kit for residents that includes a letter, a refrigerator magnet of what is and is not accepted, and a starter set of 3-gallon compostable plastic bags. They developed a detailed Home Setup Tips guide to help residents understand the various ways they can collect organics in their home – using containers they already have, containers they can repurpose, a kitchen pail, and even options that do not include purchasing compostable plastic bags.

Outreach methods

Giving your program a unique identify with catchy visuals and branding can go a long way. Use every promotional method available to you to promote it – the more visual you make the program, the more residents will see it and be encouraged to participate. Marketing professionals say it takes someone at least three times to see an ad before they consider buying in.

All educational methods should include a unique and easy to remember URL to your website. The website should be very detailed and include all information about the program, what it is, how to sign up, what is provided, and most importantly what is and is not accepted. Be very clear on what is accepted, what is not, and why certain items are not accepted. Having your accepted materials well defined at the start of the program and included in educational materials will help reduce contamination.

Do you best to allocate a considerable amount of funding for outreach and education. The costs to start a program don’t lead up to much if residents don’t sign up to participate. Lower cost educational strategies for promotions include:

  • Websites
  • Newsletters (your organization, council members, etc.)
  • Community group communications (newsletters, emails, social media)
  • Neighborhood and community events
  • Social media
  • Press releases

Many communities have educational tables at community events even before the program launches to help introduce residents to it and gain support. This is also a great opportunity to answer questions residents have on the spot. Educational materials can then be developed or updated to reflect the common questions and perceived barriers of participating.

Every new campaign must incorporate at least one direct mail piece to residents. Make the most of this educational piece. Use a lot of images, simple language, and translate into other languages as needed for your community. If your program is an opt-in (sign-up) program, consider including a postage paid reply card to make it easy for residents to sign up.

If you have a bigger budget, do more! Look at the results of past campaigns to see which promotional strategies worked best in your area. Some examples include utility bill inserts, radio advertising (be sure to include cultural radio stations), digital ads, and promoting on public transit (bus shelters, interior bus cards, exterior bus ads).

Regardless of your budget, be sure to allocate some funds to ‘boost’ posts on Facebook. It is a very low cost way to target a specific audience and reach a lot of people. Linking social media posts directly to a sign-up form will result in a lot of interest and likely signups.

Once the program rolls out, continue to allocate funding for ongoing education. See the Continuous Evaluation and Ongoing Education section for more information.

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