Members of the Gigantic team have been observing Plastic-Free July for some years now (see past blogs). Besides being the right thing to do, it lets us understand how it feels to set and strive for challenging environmental behavior goals. This year, going plastic-free has been harder than ever, as COVID-19 concerns have made plastic more common, even in places like the farmers’ market, where it was rare before.
Team member Dennis Uyat decided to keep a record of the plastic he could not avoid during July, despite his best efforts, and reflect on how it could be avoided.
To get a handle on this pile, Dennis sorted the waste into categories. Note the new arrivals this year: PPE masks and gloves, which are a huge, problematic addition to the waste stream.
Next, Dennis came up with a strategy for avoiding these items in the future. While “reduce use” is a common call-to-action, we also like the gentler, more encouraging “do your best.” No one likes to feel like a failure at waste reduction or anything else!
Plastic is a problematic material. Lightweight, flexible and adaptable, it is also, more importantly, a pervasive, harmful pollutant that has reached all corners of the planet and into our bodies. Efforts like Plastic-Free July can help raise awareness of the ever-present plastic in our lives and help us be more mindful about avoiding it as much as possible.
While we often work on projects that make composting cool, more and more of Gigantic’s clients are moving up the food recovery hierarchy and asking for outreach about reducing food waste at the source. The goal of cutting food waste in America in half by 2030 was central to the 2019 Food Waste Summit, hosted by ReFED in San Francisco.
The theme was “moving from awareness to action”, with speakers sharing strategies to cut food waste while increasing food security, spurring economic growth and combating climate change. They “set the table” with the cascading impacts of wasting food, gave a “toast to progress” with examples of success at food businesses, and shared innovative approaches to preventing food waste throughout the food system. There was even a cooking demo from one of America’s top chefs, Tiffany Derry, who encouraged attendees to partner with chefs to engage more communities with approachable stories about the value of food.
With 40% of food wasted in this country while 40 million Americans are food insecure, there was a big emphasis on how to close the hunger gap with food recovery. ReFED highlighted their Nonprofit Food Recovery Accelerator program with the goal to double the number of rescued meals in America. Nonprofits like Replate, Seeds That Feed, Plentiful, and Brighter Bites shared how they’re exploring innovative earned revenue, technology and human-centered design solutions to scale healthy food access with dignity for the millions facing food insecurity. While these solutions provide real relief, the question came up of whether they go far enough to address the core causes of hunger or food waste in America.
The Summit showcased several technology solutions for better food storage and transport, waste tracking, and end of life management, including Seal the Seasons, Goodr, Leanpath, Winnow, and Mobius. The “Mobile Blast Chiller” van, pictured at right, was developed by MGM Resorts International, Peravan, and Three Square in Las Vegas, to rapidly cool prepared food as it drives, improving food transport safety and efficiency. Apeel Sciences shared how they’re challenging the notion that we need single-use plastic packaging to solve the food waste problem with a peel-inspired produce coating that keeps produce fresher, longer.
ReFED emphasized the need for more public-private partnerships to create demand for waste reduction like the Pacific Coast Collaborative (PCC) and the Federal Winning on Reducing Food Waste Strategy. Government has a key role to play in improving donation liability protection and awareness, standardizing date labeling (e.g. “best if used by” date), and incentivizing organics from the landfill and edible food recovery with bills like SB 1383. The Summit wrapped up with a panel on turning waste into value where they emphasized the need for strong government regulations to ramp up organics recycling capacity given the current economic conditions.
When I reflect on the Summit and the amazing conversations during and afterwards, I’m left wondering who was not in the room and how that might have changed the dynamic. How we don’t have all the answers, as Ami McReynolds, Chief Equity and Programs Officer at Feeding America observed, and that we need to create a more inclusive environment to bring new voices to the conversation. “How can we build and earn trust with communities?” McReynolds asked at the end of her presentation, “What will it take to be bold and courageous collaborators with communities?” We’re grateful for our incredible clients who are working closely with communities to co-create solutions that address the real needs and root causes of these complex challenges.
There has been a lot of media coverage lately about the problems and challenges of recycling, including the rejection of the tons of recyclables that we used to ship to China. Because of the news, many community members are aware that something bad is going on with recycling.
In our presentation at California Resource Recovery Association (CRRA) on August 12 in Rancho Mirage, California, I presented some notable examples of anti-contamination recycling messages by haulers, as well as our own work tackling these issues in Palo Alto and Livermore.
We based our work on actual recycling realities in each city. In Palo Alto, the contamination was focused on food and liquid in recycling. In Livermore, sorting issues (“Wishcycling”) as well as organics cart contamination were affecting the quality of the recycling stream. These findings informed our social media, newsletter content and campaign concept development.
Clearly presented information, using clear calls to action (Wipe, Pour, Scrape, etc.) and good visuals is a start to tackling the problem. Reaching residents using a multi-channel approach, and repeating the message regularly will help get the word out.
View the presentation below:
Here at Gigantic we often advocate to make public commitments or pledges a part of an environmental behavior change campaign. New Year’s resolutions are a great example of behavior change efforts (even though 80% of them are discarded by February!) The most effective resolutions are made publicly, have specific goals, and are realistic and simple. Going public means you are more likely to keep your resolutions, so, with that in mind, here are some of the Gigantic team’s 2018 resolutions:
Lisa will be trying a new approach to reducing the large amounts of food waste related to raising her 11-year old son, Jackson. On most days of the current school year, he returned home with an entire lunch uneaten. Applying barriers and benefits research, she talked to Jackson about why it was happening. Barriers included forgetting—he was playing with friends instead of eating—and not finding the food appetizing after it sat in his lunchbox for 3 hours. “Like all moms I worry if my child is eating enough. But the waste is troubling me. In 2018 I’m going to let Jackson choose to purchase the school lunch if he is hungry. We gave him a watch with an alarm to remind him to eat. And to address my worry, I’ll send along a non-perishable snack in case of emergency.” A pilot test run demonstrated that Jackson chose the school lunch every day, so the new year is already looking food-waste free!
Kas is back in the saddle this year – bike saddle that is. She starts training in January for the AIDS/LifeCycle; she will ride her bike from San Francisco to Los Angeles during the first week of June. Kas often spots litter and illegal dumping on her Bay Area training rides. Sometimes cyclists themselves are the cause of litter with items that fall out of their overstuffed jersey pockets or, worst of all, those cyclists who purposely discard wrappers along the way. Kas pledges to pick up what trash she can and/or report illegal dumping through the See Click Fix app on her phone… and if by chance she can catch up to someone who has littered, she will take a moment to “educate” them on the finer points of leaving nature better than when they found it.
Stef continues her efforts to create a backyard wildlife refuge, in spite of some setbacks in 2017, including relentless weeds and an infestation by some very hungry, non-native caterpillars that killed all 18 bush lupines. “After countless hours of weeding and hand cramps from spraying infested plants with soapy water, the promise of a quick fix with pesticides looked pretty darn tempting,” she admits. But fearing the pain of cognitive dissonance if she were to use chemicals in her all-eco yard, Stef pledged to apply more elbow grease instead. She’ll put down her third layer of sheet-mulching and is set to crowd out weeds with low-water, bee-feeding, bird-harboring California natives early this spring.
Nancy is keeping the same resolution that she has (more or less!) successfully kept for the last 3 years. She resolves to pick up and properly discard at least 1 piece of plastic trash on every dog walk. Moxie the Pugwiler likes her exercise, so Nancy takes her out around 500 times a year – that’s over 500 pieces of plastic removed from San Francisco’s Sunnyside neighborhood annually. Unfortunately, there is no problem with finding the trash. “I often try to pick up the trash in a place where others see me doing it,” says Nancy, “It’s my attempt to norm litter pickups, to help people see the problem as everyone’s problem and a solution that we all can own.”
Nicole feels inspired by her work on the StopFoodWaste.org campaign to try to waste less by using a shopping list based on the meals she plans to eat each week. Though it’s hard to plan ahead with a busy and spontaneous schedule, it will help her save food and money, and not feel so guilty when feeding that slimy kale to her backyard worms, though it’s better than the landfill. “Food waste is a big problem in America, but there are a lot of helpful tips and tools to plan, store and use up extra food and leftovers,” says Nicole, “It also helps to eat before going shopping!”
We wish everyone a Happy New Year and pledge to work with you for a cleaner, greener 2018. Please let us know if we can help with your environmental behavior change campaigns.
As we work on environmental behavior change campaigns, we spend a lot of time crafting the perfect look and wording – to get the message right. Choosing the right messenger for that message is essential for its success. The Gigantic team’s presentation at the 2017 California Resource Recovery Association Conference covered several aspects of thinking about the best messenger.
Sometimes a public agency’s message can be strengthened and find traction when delivered in a different voice. The messenger’s “personality” can take several forms and can be delivered live, in print and digitally:
Mascots have the power to attract and engage people and make them care about issues such as recycling, waste or water quality. Creating and implementing a mascot messenger takes planning, patience and creativity. We presented examples of recent environmental mascots and talked about the process for creating, naming, scripting and distributing a mascot.
A message is easier to accept if the viewer identifies with the person delivering the message. Our presentation touched on how to evoke thoughts like “Well, if she can do it, so can I” or “I want to be more like that person” in an environmental campaign, by recruiting community members to deliver the message.
It’s easy to treat social media like another advertising channel for promoting your organization’s events and campaigns. But social media can be so much more than a digital bulletin board. We looked at ways to establish a personality on social media that doesn’t just tell folks what to do, but that interacts, observes, and participates in the broader online community. One excellent example is Baltimore’s Mr. Trash Wheel, who demonstrates best practices for tone and engagement.
Here is the CRRA presentation covering the above topics. Please let us know if you have questions or would like to talk about how the right messenger can work for you.
At Gigantic, we work hard to “get inside the heads” of the audiences we try to reach. How difficult is it to get someone to change behavior, even to be aware of that behavior? I experimented on myself last month, when I joined the #PlasticFreeJuly movement, and tried to avoid buying or accepting anything made of plastic for 31 days.
The first thing I noticed was anxiety, and a tendency to over-compensate. Should I stock up on plastic on June 30 so I could get through the month comfortably? What would I have to give up? Just how uncomfortable is this change going to be?
How can a behavior change specialist address her own fears of change and scarcity?
The Thrill of Failure
My first day was a failure, but also a tremendous success. I went out to lunch and ordered a cocktail (it’s OK, it was a Saturday!) The drink came with a straw – I had forgotten to ask for no straw. Disaster in the first few hours of the experiment! I posted about my personal failure to Facebook and Twitter, tagging the restaurant. I was amazed to see several supportive comments, even from “non-green” people with whom I had not interacted in years, saying they, too, were sick of plastic and that I should keep trying. Then, lo and behold, the restaurant responded to me via Facebook, saying that they, too, loved this particular cocktail and from now on would serve it without a straw. Victory! I took away from this experience that it can be more effective to post about one’s own weakness, to acknowledge error, rather than trying to be a brave and mighty eco-hero.
Challenges kept on coming throughout the month. In some cases there were joyous substitutions – I discovered that bread sliced at the bakery and wrapped in paper did just fine in the freezer, so breakfast was set.
Plastic = Convenience
As the month wore on, I realized that plastic equals convenience, and that I had to re-align my idea of what was convenient. Yes, it takes longer to bring your own containers and use the bulk bins of the market. It takes more effort to go to the cheese shop where the owner was happy to wrap my slices in paper – not an option at the supermarket. On the flip side, I had wonderful conversations with folks behind the counter; some were bemused by my requests, some were delighted. But this was an opportunity to connect with people in my neighborhood whom I had, frankly, barely noticed before. How to translate this greater feeling of community to our work?
When To Give Up
In some cases, going plastic-free meant going without. Tortillas and potato chips, indeed all salty junk food, were not an option, unless ordered in a restaurant. I had to cheat in a couple of instances, choosing less plastic over no plastic for things like toothpaste and olive oil. Luckily I don’t take a lot of medicines, but when I ran out of Vitamin D…I caved and bought more in a plastic bottle. I noticed the feeling of guilt and this time I did not share my “failure.”
It’s August now, and I have relented a bit, but the plastic-free exercise has stuck with me. The main thing I took away from July was a heightened awareness of plastic’s never ending presence in our lives. Entire aisles of the supermarket were off limits – which after a while felt quite restful. Connecting this ubiquity with the fact that of the 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic ever made, 6.3 billion metric tons have become plastic waste, with no end in sight. After this experiment, I am reminded as we plan campaigns that in many cases we are asking people to change, to give up something, to be inconvenienced. These are big asks. While these changes seem essential and even joyful to those of us in the environmental field, I believe it is essential to integrate humility and understanding into our campaigns, so that people feel understood and supported as we travel together on this journey to more sustainable living.
Effective environmental behavior change—like any behavior change—relies on meeting people where they are. This can mean communicating at the point of action, right where and when the behavior is happening. For instance, a recycling flyer sent to a resident’s home is a fine first touch to raise awareness, but placing recycling information directly on the bins or in the area where trash is being disposed of is an important prompt that is likely to get the best results.
What is the most effective way to display recycling/composting information? While each case is different, there are some general rules that will help increase recycling/composting while reducing contamination:
Use consistent language.
Do you say Carts or Bins? Compost or Organics? Make sure the terms you’ve chosen are used consistently in all your print pieces, including posters and bin labels, and also match the content on your website.
Use pictures and words.
Different people learn and remember differently – some people recall words, others, images. Using both will increase your chances of being clear and memorable. Remember that posters are typically viewed from a some distance away, so make sure images and text are sized large enough.
You probably don’t want to list EVERY single item that can go into the recycling or compost. Choose most common items or those often placed incorrectly. The selection of items also depends on where the poster will be used—items recycled in an office are likely different from those recycled in a restaurant kitchen.
Keep it neat.
A clean and simple layout is most likely to keep the focus on proper sorting. If a poster has too much information it may be perceived as too much effort to understand and get ignored. If you’d like to point to details, include your website URL prominently.
Stay up to date!
Did bin colors change with the new hauler contract, or are you now accepting some items for recycling that you weren’t before? Make sure your print and online collateral match your current program.
For further tips on displaying recycling information, see
Last Thursday, October 8, we opened our Gigantic doors to host a diverse group of visitors interested in learning more about us and our work as part of the NewCo Festival. NewCo engages companies with an innovative mission to share their vision and ideas with festival attendees. This year, the event expanded from San Francisco to include Oakland for the first time, and we are so proud to have been selected to participate as a host company. Host businesses include small, specialized groups like us, along with big players like Twitter, Pandora, Uber, and everything in between. NewCo is an inspiring event, and a great way to share ideas across business disciplines, as our attendees were from well-known tech companies, a university, an online retailer and more.
Surprisingly, preparing this presentation became a bit of a trip down memory lane for me. I realized the history of Gigantic’s founding and early development is intertwined with the advent of recycling, the tipping point of green as mainstream, and the rise of social science research on how to change behaviors related to environment and sustainability—and this made a cool story. It was great to meet people interested in taking the latest ideas and techniques back to their workplaces to inspire change. Here is the presentation:
Haulers, waste agencies and environmental outreach professionals have been working for decades to improve the U.S. recycling rate, yet overall the country’s recycling rate is around 34 percent – so there is much room for improvement.
Part of the challenge that we see is putting the emphasis on operational facts before attracting people with an emotional appeal. Search for “recycling” in YouTube and you get almost 900,000 results. Most of the top hits focus on how to recycle. Some examine if it works, or problems with recycling. But very few focus on why people should recycle, which is a very important factor in encouraging behavior change. In fact, the video results indicate how we take recycling for granted, assuming everyone is already on board and participating. The truth is, even with established behavioral practices, it helps to periodically boost morale with a new appeal that is fun, moving, or otherwise stirs our feelings.
There’s a kind of taxonomy that emerges if you look at enough videos that encourage recycling. Here are some categories with examples of different approaches, mostly light-hearted, that aim to increase recycling and composting activities:
“Here’s What to Do”
This is a classic “what goes where” video from Livonia, Michigan. The viewer is given no context, no appeal to emotion, just “this is what to do.” (And it’s not so simple, either!). While the information is important, the delivery could be more compelling:
Hot Tunes and Celebrity Sightings
This 1991 classic from an earlier time of recycling outreach has action-packed celebrity sightings and groovy music in an attempt to make recycling cool. The video played on MTV and in move houses and was part of an integrated campaign by the Take it Back Foundation that included classroom curricula and the development of a resolution introduced to the House and Senate to declare April 15 “National Recycling Day.” It’s a great example of use of using a catchy campaign to increase awareness. (Bonus – how many of the celebs can you name?)
This Cal Recycle video combines humor and a self-deprecating celebrity “endorsement” from Ed Begley Jr., as the public is shown that you don’t have to be a star to make a difference.
Some campaigns take the point of view of the stuff being recycled rather than the recycler, as in this video from Keep America Beautiful. It was created following research that showed that only 10 percent of Americans have a recycling bin in their bathroom:
Personifying the Bin
If creating empathy for trash doesn’t help, how about empathy for the recycling and compost bins? Here’s one example from the UK, aimed at making folks more mindful of those useful outdoor bins:
At Gigantic, we thought that creating an organics cart mascot would raise awareness, and use of the green cart when we created this video for the City of Livermore:
We’ll be looking at the use of memorable messaging to increase recycling and composting participation during our session “Not Just the Facts, Ma’am: Getting the Message to Matter” at the CRRA conference this August. We hope to see you there!
A typical set of curbside recycling instructions can leave residents confused. At this year’s California Resource Recovery Association/SWANA conference in San Jose, Gigantic Idea Studio presented an alternative approach: make it bite-sized.
To kick off our session on behavior change outreach and food waste diversion, Wendy Wondersort (aka our own Stefanie Pruegel) hosted the Sorting Game, with NorCal competing against SoCal to win the coveted Golden Pizza Slice. One team was given a long, complicated list of recycling instructions. The other received more straightforward directions. Can you guess who won?
The Sorting Game helped us demonstrate how too many messages can lead to poor recycling outcomes. To show a real-world example, we presented the concept and results of a single material outreach campaign conducted with our partners at the City of Livermore earlier this year. This “bite sized” campaign focused on one material – pizza boxes – and used multiple tactics to reach residents. The simple instruction: pizza boxes go in the green cart.
To make our outreach message memorable, we created a “story line,” where Binny, the hungry green Organics cart, visits with a Livermore family as a dinner guest and craves the delicious pizza box once the family is finished eating.
The slideshow below goes into detail on the strategy and tactics of this multi-touch campaign, including partnerships with businesses and community organizations, creation of a 30-second video and accompanying contest, and a combination of online and offline tactics to ensure that residents got the message.
Early results show an increase in the number of pizza boxes correctly sorted and a greater confidence in proper disposal amongst residents surveyed. The City of Livermore has been a great partner, and we look forward to piloting more single-material campaigns in the future and continuing to share outcomes.
There were many great questions at the end of our presentation at CRRA, and we wanted to share answers to a few of them:
While focusing on one material, we were able to build a character and storyline around it that we can now leverage for other single-material campaigns. In addition to seeing some positive operational results, the campaign’s contest offered the opportunity to opt into receiving Livermore Recycles e-news updates; two-thirds of all contest entrants opted in to receive these news updates.
Is brand consistency between campaign and program recommended?
In general, it is a good idea to have a consistent look and feel for campaigns launched by an agency, and that was our strategy for this campaign. There may be instances when a more neutral or different campaign branding might be appropriate, if appealing to a segment like young people or those who might be distrustful or fearful of government agencies.
Could this type of campaign/strategy be scaled up to a regional or statewide level?
A bite-sized approach can be scaled up or down, depending on the target audiences. However, a regional or statewide campaign may need to consider leveraging additional or different tactics from a local campaign.
Do you think this type of campaign could be applied to business outreach?
Here are some resources we recommend for further reading on behavior change theory:
Diffusion of Innovations, Everett M. Rogers
Fostering Sustainable Behavior, Doug McKenzie-Mohr
The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell
Nudge, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein
Influence, Robert Cialdini