Since establishing 20 years ago, environmental consultancy EnviroCom Australia has partnered with more than 50 local government authorities to develop and deliver education campaigns by leveraging waste data.
One of President John F Kennedy’s most famous mistranslations was saying the Chinese word for crisis was composed of two characters: one representing danger and the other opportunity.
While he may not have been correct linguistically, crises often do provide an opportunity to improve.
China’s National Sword policy and the ABC’s War on Waste program sparked conversations across the country, bringing issues of waste management to the forefront of discussions over the past year.
Paula Harrison, General Manager at environmental consultancy EnviroCom Australia, says that while recent attention on the waste industry has helped further public and government attention and conversation, there needs to be sustained, well-funded and proactive behaviour change campaigns that outlast the crisis.
“If you look at what happened when the drought hit Queensland in the early 2000s, there was a lot of demand from councils and state government who wanted to encourage residents and businesses to get involved with reducing water usage,” she says.
“When the drought eventually broke, the campaign funding dried up, water restrictions were lifted and we saw these previous water saving behaviours start to fade away.
“The same can be said of the waste industry. There’s a danger of becoming complacent when we think a crisis is over, which can undo a lot of hard work despite the media, technical innovations and government regulation that are put in place at the time.”
Paula says simple, ongoing, measurable and adaptive education programs are critical to ensuring a campaign is effective.
“It is so much more than just delivering a message,” she says.
“Being able to deliver programs, analyse the data and react if it tells you something needs to be done is vital to ensuring the success of a sustainable campaign,” she says.
Paula says EnviroCom provides this assistance to local governments by having boots on the ground working in the community, delivering the message, encouraging good waste behaviours and analysing the results. One of the ways this happens is through a bin analysis study, which sees thousands of household waste bins examined to find out what exactly is being discarded.
“We collect data on householders’ waste disposal habits before the campaign begins and can track the makeup of residents’ waste in the first few weeks of the rollout. By seeing how the community is throwing away their waste, we’re able to track the effectiveness of the campaign and how engaged the community is,” Paula says.
“We return a few months after to see if the campaign is working as it needs to. By looking at what is in the correct bins later down the line, we can see if the commitment to behavioural changes have stuck.”
Paula says that by collecting this evidence-based data, EnviroCom’s customers gain much-needed insight into the effectiveness of the campaign and how it can be improved or built upon.
“Without that research, there’s no proof that the money spent on a campaign has been used wisely,” she says.
Paula says another method EnviroCom has used to educate and track a community when it comes to good waste practices is the firm’s use of school programs.
EnviroCom helps local governments start encouraging positive changes at a young age by visiting local schools and educating them how to recycle properly and think about waste matters more broadly. “The impact of talking to the kids is hard to measure so the children are sent home to their families with an information pack and parent survey which helps the lesson continue after school and provides broader feedback from the home,” she says.
“It also has the secondary effect of encouraging new behaviours in the family as a whole and lets councils see how behaviours are changing and how much value they are getting from a campaign.”
EnviroCom speaks to more than 20,000 children a year, which Paula says helps to also connect with their families.
“One of the interesting things we have found from our research is that all socioeconomic demographics and cultural backgrounds want to make a difference when it comes to managing their waste,” she says.
Paula says that reaching out to connect with all demographics in a community helps behaviours become ingrained socially.
“We make sure we work with community leaders in culturally diverse groups to help get the wider community on board,” she says.
“It’s more than just providing the knowledge. A television ad is great and can provide awareness but seeing members within your own community get involved can be much more motivating to change how you view your waste.”
“That’s why, in partnership with our customers, we use tried and true methods of reaching those recycling superstars in communities to encourage them to spread and maintain change.”
One of the ways EnviroCom opens conversations is with friendly discussions in pop up displays around areas where the community gathers.
“Another effective method is our ‘tea and talk’ campaigns in libraries, where people can learn more about waste minimisation, share their own experiences and get some morning tea,” she says.
Paula says that by changing a community’s social expectations and personal responsibility around waste, the long-term changes last for years after the initial campaign ends.
This article was published in the September issue of Waste Management Review.