Recycling is an essential part of reducing the impact we have on our environment. Forty years ago, the recycling challenge was about getting people and businesses to embrace a new way of discarding waste: bundling newspapers, sorting plastics and glass, and resisting the old habit of throwing all our waste in the garbage. Today, with evolving waste streams, single-stream collection methods and advanced processing systems, recycling has become more complex. Recycling the right materials in the right way really does matter, but it doesn’t always happen: it’s estimated that 25 percent of materials put in recycling bins are not actually recyclable.
As the recycling landscape has evolved in recent years and become more challenging for consumers, we are working to educate people about the benefits not only of recycling, but also recycling properly. Our Recycle Often. Recycle Right.® campaign helps consumers understand what can and cannot be recycled.
A key feature of the Recycle Often. Recycle Right. campaign is a toolkit that includes brochures, posters, ads, radio clips, blog posts, videos and more, used to spread the message. In addition, the toolkit provides K-12 curricula with supporting national science standards and is available to visitors to the campaign’s microsite. We launched a new version of the campaign website in 2017 to provide customers with more updates and more engaging, interactive and motivational resources to help them make the right recycling choices.
Our Recycle Often. Recycle Right.® campaign is national in scope and joins partners for recycling education such as The Recycling Partnership, of which we’re a funding partner, AMERIPEN, the National Waste & Recycling Association and others. We work hard to make these education programs come alive locally. Many of our sites across North America host educational activities, programs, community events and facility open houses to inform and educate people about better managing waste. For example, our team in Kansas City partnered with Bridging the Gap (a local nonprofit) and a Keep America Beautiful chapter to put together a Facebook Live broadcast on America Recycles Day that offered viewers practical recycling tips plus a behind-the-scenes look at the Kansas City recycling facility.
We also use our social media channels to educate people about recycling through our #Recycling101 campaign, in addition to other sustainability information. In 2017, we posted more than 270 messages about sustainability and recycling education on social media, reaching approximately 8.5 million people.
Our own workforce speaks multiple languages (our employee newsletter goes out in English, Spanish and French), so it’s no surprise that the diverse communities we serve would benefit from receiving information in their own language, too. We offer Spanish-language resources on our Recycle Often. Recycle Right.® website, and our municipal partners often provide translated versions of local recycling guidelines on their websites as well.
Here are some other ways we engage with multicultural communities about recycling:
- One of our recent Think Green Grants went to the Vietnamese American Community Center of the East Bay in Oakland, California. The center wanted to help Vietnamese restaurants and grocery stores incorporate compost collection services to avoid fees and penalties regarding new and unfamiliar composting rules and regulations. The grant went toward translating an English ad about composting requirements into Vietnamese and training staff and volunteers about the recycling ordinance so they could help over 30 local businesses make informed decisions about compliance.
- In Southern California, our team employs integrated outreach efforts to make recycling messages relatable to Spanish speaking communities. One emphasis of our recent engagement includes the development of localized videos and social media content inviting Latino communities to join our efforts to further sustainability through reducing and reusing and recycling right.
- In Washington state, our Recycling Corps interns often speak more than one language and use those skills to broaden our engagement with the public and businesses about reducing waste and changing recycling behavior. One of our 2017 interns, Xiao Dong Liu, used his Cantonese and Mandarin fluency to share recycling education with businesses in Seattle’s Chinese community.
- In 2017, our Washington state team also implemented a recycling education pilot and campaign aimed at Spanish-speakers in Snohomish County. The campaign educated residents about recycling and tested the effectiveness of texting, TV and radio ads, direct mail and door-to-door outreach. Using the information learned from this pilot, Waste Management developed a new education campaign geared toward the Spanish-speaking community. The “Odes to Recycling” campaign is inspired by the work of Pablo Neruda and his odes to everyday elements, paying homage to recyclable plastics, paper and cans that can be reborn for the benefit of the planet and future generations. Based on the importance the community places on recycling and the environment, odes are a culturally significant way to share recycling best practices for priority materials. In addition, we launched a new bilingual English/Spanish storytelling program that targets multicultural communities within schools. The hands-on, visual and interactive nature of the program made it accessible for all students, regardless of native language. These efforts would go on to win our team a 2018 Recycler of the Year award for Multicultural Engagement from the Washington State Recycling Association.