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:
- What is organics recycling
- Why it’s important
- How to participate (and sign up)
- What is and is not accepted
Initial program education should include what tools are provided for participants. These items impact start-up and ongoing program costs as well. Some items to consider include carts, kitchen collection pails, compostable bags. Items to consider for each of these are detailed below.
- 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?
- Kitchen collection pails are provided in a starter kit by many municipalities.
You will need to choose a model, and determine how many are provided per household. Is there an added fee for the pail or are the costs included in the program cost?
- If you choose not to provide kitchen pails, provide detailed instructions on how you want residents to set out their materials.
- 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.
- If you provide ongoing compostable plastic bags to participants:
What size and how many bags do you provide?
This option helps reduce the perception of added cost to participate in the program. However, it will increase ongoing program cost considerably.
- If you provide starter bags when people sign up:
Your participants will learn about compostable bags and what to look for when they need to purchase more.
When choosing these bags, make sure there are a variety of bag options available at local grocery, food co-op, big retail and hardware stores.
Some communities provide posters, magnets, or labels for home containers. Include them in a welcome kit or have them prominently posted on your website for residents to request.
The City of Minneapolis, for example, chose not to provide kitchen pails or ongoing compostable bags for residents. They provide a welcome kit for residents that includes a letter, a refrigerator magnet detailing what is and is not accepted, and a starter set of three-gallon compostable plastic bags.
Giving your program a unique identity 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 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 link to your website. The website should be detailed and include all information about the program, how to sign up, what is provided, and most importantly what is and is not accepted. Having your accepted materials well defined at the start of the program and included in educational materials will help reduce contamination.
Do your best to allocate a considerable amount of funding for outreach and education. Lower cost educational strategies for promotions include:
- 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 educational piece mailed to all residents. 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 social media. 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 signups.
Once the program rolls out, continue to allocate funding for ongoing education. See the Continuous Evaluation and Ongoing Education section for more information.