Research shows that residents want clear, pertinent information about municipal waste and recycling programs. And while most municipal waste managers know that providing information can increase household participation in local programs, the costs and complexity of designing effective communications can be overwhelming — especially when budgets are tight.
In recent years, several surveys have confirmed what most municipal waste managers know intuitively: that a significant barrier to participation in local waste and recycling programs is the absence of clear information for residents. In a 2007 Harris poll of nearly 2,400 adults, respondents cited such reasons as “not sure what is recyclable,” “confusion or lack of information” and “not sure it makes a difference” as obstacles. A Gallup survey conducted the same year confirmed that residents want to conserve more, recycle more and waste less, but that they don’t always know what they are supposed to do with their waste and recyclables.
Municipalities have struggled to balance the need to communicate program details to residents against static budgets, and the suspicion that newspaper ads, flyers or similar information pieces end up unread and discarded in the recycling bin — or worse, garbage can.
A growing number of jurisdictions are discovering that by combining separate promotional efforts for each aspect of their waste programs into one attractive comprehensive calendar format, they can leverage their investment to create a detailed program guide that residents actually want to use all year long.
Calendar format popular
The calendar format offers multiple benefits to both municipal officials and residents. It displays collection and depot information in an easy-to-follow format; provides details on special items such as household hazardous waste, organics or metal; and allows municipalities to address common issues like missed collections or recycling do’s and don’ts. Seasonal information — such as yard waste, water restrictions or Christmas tree collection — is presented in a timely way, and there is even space for waste reduction tips.
“It answers all my questions of how to dispose of waste — when, where & how.” “One easy-to-read resource for recycling questions.” “Keeps our household on track.” These are just some of the responses in surveys that evaluated residents’ responses to their local calendars. The research, conducted in 2006, revealed that residents overwhelmingly endorse the format, with 95 per cent of respondents indicating that they use the calendar throughout the year to check dates and program details, and 90 per cent rating the calendar as “excellent” or “good.”
Meanwhile, waste managers point to positive impact on collection programs.
“Our customer responses to these calendars have been overwhelmingly positive,” says Robert Costanzo, manager of Contracts and Waste Management for the City of Surrey. “Best of all, we’re already noticing a marked reduction in the number of specific inquiry calls to our garbage and recycling call centre.”
The primary innovator behind the trend to adopt waste and recycling calendars is Municipal Media Inc. In 2001, founder Creighton Hooper identified an emerging gap between the amount of detailed information municipalities needed to communicate about their waste management programs, and the existing tools for doing so.
“It was apparent from the start that municipal waste departments are strapped for both time and money, yet they need to get this important information to residents,” says Hooper, whose team created calendars for more than 125 Canadian municipalities in 2009. “We have the expertise that turns a complex project into a simple, affordable process for managers.”
Web tool cuts costs
This year, Municipal Media launched a breakthrough web-based solution that enables officials to reduce the cost of their calendars even more by simplifying the design process. The www.CustomBuiltCalendars.com website walks users through a series of step-by-step do-it-yourself online tools, saving thousands in design costs for municipalities.
“We wanted to give our clients total control over every aspect of their calendars, while keeping costs low — and of course, ensuring professional results,” explains Hooper. “Whether they use our ready-to-use features on popular topics, or create their own content, our clients can produce an attractive, ultra-cost-effective calendar with no special software or computer knowledge. Completed calendars from different municipalities are then printed together, resulting in even more savings.” He adds that while the system is simple and secure, his company will be on hand to answer any questions along the way.
Julie Dossett works as Project Manager on various Municipal Media projects in Toronto, Ontario. Contact Julieat firstname.lastname@example.org